After Slavery: Educator Resources

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6. A Union League Organizer Seeks permission to Bargain on the Behalf of Women and Children

The following educational document corresponds with Unit Two: Freed Slaves Mobilize in the After Slavery exhibition. Note the "Questions to Consider" section included at the end of each document.

The following document is from another minister, the Rev. Samuel L. Lewis, who is writing to North Carolina Governor William W. Holden on behalf of a group of twelve freedmen in the vicinity of Beatties Pond—about forty miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina. In the letter Lewis details the vulnerability of black laborers, and particularly of women and children, in the aftermath of emancipation. Concerned that they are being taken advantage of and exploited by local employers, Lewis is soliciting Holden's support for extending the role of the Union League into labor negotiations, and suggesting that freedmen might use their greater leverage to assist the rest of the freed community in bargaining for better wages and treatment. Freedwomen across the South found themselves in a difficult predicament after the end of slavery: while previously their child-bearing capacity had rendered them valuable 'property' to their owners, their new 'freed' status left them vulnerable—alongside young children, the elderly and the infirm—to being cut adrift and discharged to make their own way in the world. In these circumstances the Union Leagues and other local clubs and societies that had been founded by Republican officials for purely electoral aims were often compelled to overstep their narrow remit.

A Union League Organizer Seeks permission to Bargain on the Behalf of Women and Children

Beatties Pond, Lincolnton County northcarolina

January 4th 1869

Mr. W. W. holdin

Dear Sir I take my pen in hand this morning to drop you a few lines, hopeing you will agree with me in my undertaking by the Benevolence of the people, and by assisttance of the omnipotent God we elected you for our Governer for the State of N. C. we form our selfs in Sosieties and Ligues and elected you, and Genril Grant, and Colfax and all of the Radicals officials, and our Ligue has made a Cunclusion to write you this precep, the is a grate menny Womens and Childrens and boys going a Bout working for people and don't know how to make a Bargain and they is not giting theyr Rights by a grate dail. that is going on in this section of the country to a full ectence, and we want to know If Some of the Best men of our Ligue could Stand as garddeans for all such people in our Reach not let them make a bargain them selfs but some of us go and make it for them and See that they git the money &c. governer it is desspert the way Some of our Coler is treated and we hav a feeling for our Race and Coler, and we want to Stop Some of this intreatment, and if you please Sir gave us some infirmation a bout this all impordent matter, as we is a ignorant and donwtroden and yet oppressed Race of coler, 12 of us made this agreement in the neighborhood of Beattis Pond hopeing you will assist us in Standing gardains for Some of this Colord Race.

Please don't think Strnge of my Writing I am a poor Colord man don't know much, but please try and make out this Stamering hand, and write to me by next mail. When you write please direct

Rev. Samuel Lewis M. E.a to W. W. Holden

a Methodist Episcopalian

Source: Governor William W. Holden Papers, North Carolina Department of Archives and History


Questions to Consider

  1. Four years after the end of slavery, a group of former slaves is addressing a letter to the governor of their state. What is the tone of the correspondence? Are the petitioners begging Holden for assistance? Are they apologetic about their intruding on official business? Do they feel the government owes them a positive response?

  2. Why might it fall to a minister to pen the letter to Holden? Why might ministers come to play such a disproportionate role in grassroots politics during this period? In what ways might their activism shape the outlook of the black churches?

  3. What does the document reveal about the extent and effectiveness of organization among freedpeople in North Carolina? Does Lewis's group appear to operate according to any formal procedures?

  4. Is there any reason why the Union Leagues should devote such prominent attention to economic issues like the exploitation of female and child labor? Does the Republican Party at national level share their concerns over such issues?

  5. Lewis's suggests in his letter a strong sense of sympathy and racial solidarity among former slaves. Why might this be the case, and what are its implications for grassroots Republican politics during the Reconstruction period and beyond?

Return to Exhibition: Unit Two