Richard Allen and Absalom Jones formed the Free African Society in Philadelphia, a mutual aid society designed to provide socioeconomic guidance to newly freed people. Among its main objectives were teaching thrift and saving to build wealth in the community. These mutual aid societies and fraternities served as a model for banks later formed in the black community.
By the late 1700s there were nearly 2,000 free blacks in Philadelphia. The community had a strong need to establish financial institutions to support businesses and to provide a secure place for accumulating wealth. In 1778, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two ministers, founded the first quasi-financial organization in Philadelphia. These leaders understood the connection between saving and investing and economic growth and stability. Within 10 years, the society had a balance of 42.416 pounds on deposit at the Bank of North America. By 1838 the number of benevolent organizations grew to 100, with membership recorded as 7,448.
Similar organizations were established in Boston, New York, Baltimore, and other cities with large black populations. Although these organizations kept their money on deposit at many local banks, by the mid-19th century African Americans found it increasingly difficult to secure credit supporting commerce and industry. In the years leading up to the Civil War, there was extensive conversation about African Americans establishing their own bank.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (May 25, 1878 – November 25, 1949) was an American tap dancer and actor of stage and film. Audiences enjoyed his understated style, which eschewed the frenetic manner of the jitterbug in favor of cool and reserve; rarely did he use his upper body, relying instead on busy, inventive feet, and an expressive face.
A figure in both the black and white entertainment worlds of his era, he is best known today for his dancing with Shirley Temple in a series of films during the 1930s, and for starring in the 1943 musical Stormy Weather, loosely based on Robinson’s own life.
The Penny Savings Bank, founded by Reverend William Reuben Pettiford in Birmingham in 1890, was the first black-owned and black-operated financial institution in Alabama. Created as a necessity of de facto and later codified segregation, the bank backed and encouraged development of black businesses, especially in urban areas, as well as savings by African Americans, until its closing in 1915.
William Reuben Pettiford
William Reuben Pettiford was born to free parents in North Carolina in 1847. He moved to Alabama in 1869 to seek better educational and financial opportunities. After seven years of studying while holding down jobs, Pettiford completed his degree at the Lincoln Normal School (a predecessor of Alabama State University) in Marion, Perry County. In 1877, Pettiford became a teacher at Selma University and simultaneously entered the theological department of the school, taking courses from President Harrison Woodsmall.
Three years later, he voluntarily severed his connection with the school to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Union Springs, where he also served as principal of the city school for African Americans. In 1883, he accepted the pastorate of the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham, later named the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, at the urging of state Baptist leaders and educator Booker T. Washington, who assured him that he could provide necessary leadership for Birmingham’s expanding black population.
In 1817, Samuel Ringgold Ward was born into slavery in Maryland. He was treated harshly and resented the entire system of chattel slavery. To escape this horrible system, Ward ran away, using the Underground Railroad to reach New York City. In New York, Ward became a school teacher and later a preacher.
His interest in journalism led him to the job of an editor of the Farmer and Northern Star. Wars became involved with the abolitionist movement that was very popular in New York. He, along with others founded the Liberty and Free-Soil parties, edited the Impartial Citizen in Boston and credited the Alienated American. Ward moved to Canada. Continue reading
The year was 1861. The American Civil War had shortly begun and the Union Army held control of Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. In May of that year, Union Major General Benjamin Butler decreed that any escaping slaves reaching Union lines would be considered “contraband of war” and would not be returned to bondage. This resulted in waves of enslaved people rushing to the fort in search of freedom. A camp to house the newly freed slaves was built several miles outside the protective walls of Fort Monroe. It was named “The Grand Contraband Camp” and functioned as the United States’ first self-contained African American community.
In order to provide the masses of refugees some kind of education, Mary Peake, a free Negro, was asked to teach, even though an 1831 Virginia law forbid the education of slaves, free blacks and mulattos. She held her first class, which consisted of about twenty students, on September 17, 1861 under a simple oak tree. This tree would later be known as the Emancipation Oak and would become the site of the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Today, the Emancipation Oak still stands on the Hampton University campus as a lasting symbol of the promise of education for all, even in the face of adversity.
Smith v. Allwright , 321 U.S. 649 (1944), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court with regard to voting rights and, by extension, racial desegregation. It overturned the Texas state law that authorized the Democratic Party to set its internal rules, including the use of white primaries. The court ruled that the state had allowed discrimination to be practiced by delegating its authority to the Democratic Party. This affected all other states where the party used the rule.
The Democrats had excluded minority voter participation by this means, another device for legal disfranchisement of blacks across the South beginning in the late 19th century.
The Colored National Labor Union arrived shortly after the development of the National Labor Union, which happened to be the first major organization founded by Andrew Cameron in 1866. The National Labor Union was dedicated with helping unions such as construction and other skilled groups and even sometimes towards farmers.
At this point in time African Americans were struggling to be noticed and taken seriously in the work field and in society they felt that if they started their own national union it would help their position in society because they were not given any help from the National Labor Union. The only thing that the National Union offered to African Americans was to encourage them to organize and separate that could be affiliated with the National Labor Union, but this plan was clearly not designed to help with racial unity because it left black workers only fighting for an entry into the union.