W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois.

Economic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t online

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Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 3 of 22)
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and a rather ludicrous one; but certain ones have noticed that it was
not wholly an imitation and we find moreover that the organization
had some political power. Senator Platt, for instance, in his researches
tells us that the Negro governor and other officials in Connecticut had
no legal power, and yet exercised considerable control over the Negroes
throughout the state. The black governor directed the affairs of his
people and his directions were obeyed; the black justices tried cases
both civil and criminal, and rendered judgments and executed punish
ments. The idea of the Negroes doing this originated with the Negroes
themselves, it seems, for Platt says: "They conceived the project of
imitating the whites by establishing a subordinate jurisdiction and
jurisprudence of their own. The old Negroes aided in the plan but not
without the approbation of their masters, who foresaw that a sort of
police managed wholly by the slaves would be more effectual in keep
ing them within the bounds of morality than if the same authority
was exercised by whites." He goes on to say that the judicial depart
ment of this government within a government consisted of the governor
who sometimes sat at judgment in cases of appeal; the other magis
trates and judges tried all charges brought against any Negro by an
other or by a white person; masters complained to the governor and
the magistrates of the delinquencies of their slaves, who were tried, con
demned and punished at the discretion of the court. The punishment
was sometimes quite severe, and what made it the more effectual was
that it was the judgment of their peers, people of their own rank and
color. Thus we find surviving in New England for a long time a system
of government which must have gone far enough to have some control
over the slave as a workman, and was to some extent economic in its
effects. *

It is, however, in the West Indies that we find the most direct
survival of African economic customs. In Jamaica, for instance, the
practice prevailed of giving the Negroes land to cultivate and expecting
them to maintain themselves from the product of these lands, giving
most of their labor, of course, to the master. The Negroes acquired,
therefore, some little property of their own and on holidays and Sundays
and on one week day each fortnight they went to market. They took
to market not only the things raised on their part of ground, but also
some of them made a few coarse manufactures, such as mats, bark
ropes, wicket chairs and baskets, earthen jars, pans, etc. Of course
these things were relics of their African trade; they could not be as
well made because the Negroes did not have more than about sixteen

Compare Papers of the New Haven Colony Hist. Soc., Vol. VI.

20 Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans

hours a week to cultivate their gardens and to do work of this sort.

Edwards says: "Sunday is their market day and it is wonderful
what numbers are then seen hastening from all parts of the country
toward the towns and shipping places ladened with fruits and vegeta
bles, pigs, goats and poultry, their* own property. In Jamaica it is
supposed that upwards of ten thousand assemble every Sunday morn
ing in the market of Kingston, where they barter their provisions, etc.*
for Salted beef and pork or fine linens for their wives and children. 1 *
We have here, then, a peculiar survival of African economic customs
in the new world, and we shall find that in the continental colonies
there were traces of the same thing.

Section 4. The Colonies

Tn the continental colonies the remembrance of the African organiza
tion and society was more and more lost sight of. The -Negroes had
become Americans, speaking another language and forgetting much of
the past. The plot of ground which they cultivated for themselves still
remained in most cases, but it was supplemented by regular rations
from the store-house of the master. Tendencies toward political au
tonomy still showed themselves in the insurrections that took place
from time to time, but these were sternly suppressed and only in a few
cases did they gain a wide following. Religious institutions remained
and the church gained for itself a wide and ever wider following, but
its economic activities were still very much curtailed.

Beneficial and burial societies began to appear, however, even in the
time of slavery. We are told, for instance:

The history of the Negro insurance extends far beyond the days of his free
dom in this country. While there are no recorded data available, yet from
reliable sources we learn that more than seventy-five years ago there existed
in every city of any size in Virginia organizations of Negroes having as their
object the caring for the sick and the burying of the dead. In but few in
stances did the society exist openly, as the laws of the time concerning Negroes
were such as to make it impossible for this to be done without serious conse
quences to the participants. History shows that no matter how the oppressed
and enslaved may have been watched and hedged in, there was always found
a way by which they could get together, and this has been no less true of the
Negro in his attempt to combine for mutual protection from the results of
sickness and death. Although it was unlawful for Negroes to assemble with
out the presence of a white man, and so unlawful to allow a congregation
of slaves on a plantation without the consent of the master, these organiza
tions existed and held these meetings on the " lots" of some of the law-makers
themselves. The general plan seems to have been to select some one who
could "read and write" and make him the secretary. The meeting place
having been selected, the members would come by "ones and twos," make
their payments to the secretary, and quietly withdraw. The book of the sec
retary was often kept covered up on the bed. In many of the societies each
member was known by number and in paying simply announced his number.
The president of such a society was usually a privileged slave who had the

Bryan Edwards: West Indies.

The Colonies 21

confidence of his or her master and could go and come at will. Thus a form of
communication could be kept up between all members. In event of death of
a member provision was made for decent burial, and all the members as far as
possible obtained permits to attend the funeral. Here and again their plan of
getting together was brought into play. In Richmond they would go to the
church by ones and twos and there sit as near together as convenient. At the
close of the service a line of march would be formed when sufficiently far
from the church to make it safe to do. It is reported that the members were
faithful to each other and that every obligation was faithfully carried out.
This was the first form of insurance known to the Negro from which his
family received a benefit.*

As soon as slaves began to be emancipated such beneficial societies
began to be openly formed. One of the earliest of these became, event
ually, the great African Methodist Church, and its articles of associa
tion, made April 12, 1787, are of especial interest:

Preamble of the Free African Society

PHILADELPHIA, 12th, 4th mo., 1787.

Whereas, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, two men of the African race,
who, for their religious life and conversation have obtained a good report
among men, these persons, from a love to the people of their complexion
whom they beheld with sorrow, because of their irreligious and uncivilized
state, often communed together upon this painful and important subject in
order to form some kind of religious society, but there being too few to be
found under like concern, and those who were, differed in their religious sen
timents; with these circumstances they labored for some time, till it was pro
posed, after a serious communication of sentiments, that a society should be
formed, without regard to religious tenets, provided the persons lived an
orderly and sober life, in order to support one another in sickness, and for the
benefit of their widows and fatherless children.

The following persons were the charter members: Absalom Jones, Richard
Allen, Samuel Boston, Joseph Johnson, Cato Freeman, Cyesar Cranchell, James
Potter and William White.


17th, 5th mo., 1787.

We, the free Africans and their descendants of the City of Philadelphia, in
the state of Pennsylvania, or elsewhere, do unanimously agree, for the benefit
of each other, to advance one shilling in Pennsylvania silver currency, a
month ; and after one year s subscription from the date thereof, then to hand
forth to the needy of this society, if any should require, the sum of three shill
ings and nine pence per week of the said money; provided, this necessity is
not brought on them by their own imprudence.

And it is further agreed, that no drunkard nor disorderly person be admit
ted as a member, and if any should prove disorderly after having been re
ceived, the said disorderly person shall be disjoined from us if there is not an
amendment, by being informed by two of the members, without having any
of his subscription returned.

And if any one should neglect paying his subscription for three mouths,
and after having been informed of the same by two of the members, and no
sufficient reason appearing for such neglect, if he do not pay the whole the

* Hampton Negro Conference, No. 8, pp. 43-14,

22 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

next ensuing meeting, he shall be disjoined from us by being informed by two
of the members as an offender, without having any of his subscription money

Also, if any person neglect meeting every month, for every omission he
shall have to pay three pence, except in case of sickness or any other com
plaint that should require the assistance of the society, then and in such case,
he shall be exempt from the fines and subscription during said sickness.

Also, we apprehend it to be just and reasonable, that the surviving widow
of the deceased member should enjoy the benefit of this society so long as she
remains his widow, complying with the rules thereof, excepting the subscrip

And we apprehend it to be necessary that the children of our deceased mem
bers l)e under the care of the society, so far as to pay for the education of their
children, if they can not attend the free school; also to put them out as ap
prentices to suitable trades and places, if required.

Also, that no member shall convene the society together; but it shall be the
sole business of the committee, and that only on special occasions, and to dis
pose of the money in hand to the best advantage for the use of the society,
after they are granted the liberty at a monthly meeting, and to transact all
other business whatsoever, except that of clerk and treasurer.

And we unanimously agree to choose Joseph Clarke to be our clerk and
treasurer ; and whenever another should succeed him, it is always understood,
that one of the people called Quakers, belonging to one of the three monthly
meetings in Philadelphia, is to be chosen to act as clerk and treasurer of this
useful institution.

The following persons met, viz: Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, Samuel
Boston, Joseph Johnson, Cato Freeman, Caesar Cranchell and James Potter,
and also William White, whose early assistance and useful remarks were
found truly profitable. This evening the articles \vere read, and after some
beneficial remarks were made, they were agreed unto. *

In 1790 this society had 42 9.s. Id. on deposit in the Bank of North

At about this same time secret societies began to arise. The origin of
the Negro Masons was as follows: t

On March 6, 1775, an army lodge attached to one of the regiments
stationed under General Gage in or near Boston, Mass., initiated Prince
Hall and fourteen other colored men into the mysteries of Freemasonry.
From this beginning, with small additions from foreign countries,
sprang the Masonry among the Negroes in America. These fifteen
brethren were, according to a custom of the day, authorized to assem
ble as a lodge, "walk on St. John s Day" and bury their dead "in man
ner and form;" but they did no "work" made no Masons until after
they had been regularly warranted. They applied to the Grand Lodge
of England for a warrant March 2, 1784. It was issued to them as
^ African Lodge, No. 459, 11 with Prince Hall as Master, September 29.
1784, but owing to various vexatious misadventures was not received
until April 29. 1787. The lodge was organized under the warrant May
0, 1787. It remained upon the English registry occasionally con
tributing to the. Grand Charity Fund until, upon the amalgamation of

Arnetfs Budget, 1904, pp. 93-94. f Upton: Negro Masonry.

Negro Masons 23

the rival Grand Lodges of the "Moderns" and the "Ancients" into the
present United Grand Lodge of England, in 1813, it and the other Eng
lish lodges in the United States were erased.

Prince Hall, a man of exceptional ability, served in the Ameri
can Army during the Revolutionary War and, until his death, in 1807,
was exceedingly zealous in the cause of Masonry. js early as in
1792 he was styled "Grand Master," and from that date at least he ex
ercised the functions of a Grand Master or Provincial Grand Master.

In 1797 he issued a license to thirteen black men who had been made
Masons in England and Ireland to "assemble and work" as a lodge in
Philadelphia. Another lodge was organized by his authority in Provi
dence, Rhode Island, for the accommodation of members of African
Lodge who resided in that vicinity. This was in accordance with an
old usage, the validity of which had then but recently been confirmed
by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. In 1808 these three lodges joined in
forming the "African Grand Lodge" of Boston, subsequently styled the
"Prince Hall Lodge of Massachusetts." Masonry gradually spread
over the land.

The second colored Grand Lodge, called the "First Independent Afri
can Grand Lodge of North America in and for the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania," was organized in 1815; and the third was the "Hiram
Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania." These three Grand bodies fully recog
nized each other in 1847 by joining in forming a National Grand Lodge,
and practically all the Negro lodges in the United States are descended
from one or the other of these.

The original warrant of Prince Hall Lodge reads:

To all and every our right Worshipful and loving Brethren, we, Thomas
Howard, Earl of Effingham, Lord Howard, etc., etc., acting Grand Master under
the authority of His Royal Highness, Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland,
etc., etc., Grand Master of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free
and Accepted Masons, send greeting ;

Know Ye, That we, at the humble petition of our right trusty and well be
loved Brethren, Prince Hall, Boston Smith, Thomas Sanderson and several
other Brethren residing in Boston, New England, in North America, do here
by constitute the said Brethren into a regular Lodge of Free and Accepted
Masons, under the title or denomination of the African Lodge, to be opened in
Boston aforesaid, and do further, at their said petition, hereby appoint the
said Prince Hall to be Master, Boston Smith, Senior Warden, and Thomas-:
Sanderson, Junior Warden, for the opening of the said Lodge and for such
further time only as shall be thought proper by the brethren thereof, it being
our will that this our appointment of the above officers shall in no wise affect
any future election of officers of the Lodge, but that such election shall be
regulated agreeable to such by-laws of said Lodge as shall be consistent with
the general laws of the society, contained in the Book of Constitutions ; and we
hereby will and require you, the said Prince Hall, to take especial care that
all and every one of the said Brethren are, or have been regularly made Ma
sons, and that they do observe, perform and keep all the rules and orders con
tained in the Book of Constitutions; and further, that you do, from time to
time, cause to be entered in a book kept for the purpose, an account of your
proceedings in the Lodge, together with all such rules, orders and regulations,

24 Economic Co=operation Among Negro Americans

as shall be made for the good government of the same; that in no wise you
omit once in every year to send us, or our successors, Grand Master, or to Ro
land Holt, Esq., our Deputy Grand Masfer, for the time being, an account in
writing of your said proceedings, and copies of all such rules, orders and regu
lations as shall be made as aforesaid, together with a list of the members of
the Lodge, anfl such a sum of money as may suit the circumstances of the
Lodge and reasonably be expected towards the Grand Charity. Moreover, we
hereby will and require you, the said Prince Hall, as soon as conveniently
may be, to send an account in writing of what may be done by virtue of these

Given at London, under our hand and seal of Masonry, this 29th day of Sep
tember, A. L. 5784, A. D. 1784.

By the Grand Master s Command.

Witness : WM. WHITE, G. S. R. HOLT, D. G. M.

Part 2. The Development of Cooperation

Section 5. An Historical Sketch

A sketch of co-operation among the Negro Americans begins natur
ally with the Negro church. The vast power of the priest in the Afri
can state was not fully overcome by slavery and transportation ; it still
remained on the plantation. The Negro priest, therefore, early became
an important figure and "found his function as the interpreter of the
supernatural, the comforter of the sorrowing, and the one who expressed
rudely but picturesquely the longing, disappointment and resentment
of a stolen people. From such beginnings rose and spread with marvel
lous rapidity the Negro church in America, the first distinctively Negro
American social institution. It was not at first by any means a Chris
tian church, but rather an adaptation of those heathen rites which we
roughly designate by the term Obi worship or Voodooism. Association
and missionary effort soon gave these rites a veneer of Christianity
and gradually after two centuries the church became Christian with a
Calvinistic creed and with many of the old customs still clinging to the
services. It is this historic fact, that the Negro church of today bases
itself on one of the few surviving social institutions of the African
Fatherland, that accounts for its extraordinary growth and vitality.
We must remember that in the United States today there is a church
organization for every sixty Negro families." This institution there
fore naturally assumed many functions which the other harshly sup
pressed social organs had to surrender, and especially the church became
the center of economic activity as well as of amusement, education and
social intercourse.

It was in the church, too, or rather the organization that went by the
name of church, that many of the insurrections among the slaves from
the sixteenth century down had their origin ; we must find in these in
surrections a beginning of co-operation which eventually ended in the
peaceful economic co-operation. A full list of these insurrections it is
impossible to make, but if we take the larger and more significant ones

Historical Sketch 25

they will show us the trend. The chief Negro insurrections are as fol
lows :

Revolt of the Maroons, Jamaica.

Uprising in Danish Islands.

New York, 1712.

Cato of Stono, South Carolina, 1734.

New York, 1741.

San Domingo, 1791.

Gabriel, Virginia, 1800.

Vesey, South Carolina, 1822.

Nat Turner, Virginia, 1831.

Both Vesey and Turner were preachers and used the church as a cen
ter of their plots; Gabriel and Cato may have been preachers, although
this is not known.

These insurrections fall into three categories: unorganized outbursts
of fury, as in the Danish Islands and in early Carolina; military organi
zations, as in the case of the Maroons; movements of small knots of
conspirators, as in New York in 1712 and 1741; and carefully planned
efforts at widespread co-operation for freedom, as in the case of San
Domingo, and the uprisings under Cato, Gabriel, Vesey and Turner.
It was these latter that in most cases grew out of the church organiza

It was the fact that the Negro church thus loaned itself to insurrec
tion and plot that led to its partial suppression and careful oversight in
the latter part of the seventeenth and again in the eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless there arose out of the church in
the latter part of the eighteenth and early in the nineteenth centuries
the beneficial society, a small and usually clandestine organization for
burying the dead ; this development usually took place in cities. From
the beneficial society arose naturally after emancipation the other co
operative movements: secret societies (which may date back even be
yond the church in some way, although there is no tangible proof of
this), and cemeteries which began to be bought and arranged for very
early in the history of the church. The same sort of movement that
started the cemeteries brought the hospital in the latter part of the
nineteenth century, and from the secret societies came the homes and
orphanages. Out of the beneficial society also developed late in the
nineteenth century the first attempts at co-operative business, and still
later the insurance societies, out of which came the banks in the last
ten years.

Meantime, however, the spirit of insurrection and revolt had found
outlet earlier than by this slower development.

There was early discovered an easier method of attaining freedom
than by insurrection and that was by flight to the free states. In the
West Indies this safety valve was wanting and the result was San Do-
rningo. In America freedom cleared a refuge for slaves as follows:

Vermont, 1779.

Massachusetts, 1780.

26 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

Pennsylvania, 1780.

New Hampshire, 1783.

Connecticut, 1784.

Rhode Island, 1784.

Northwest Territory, 1787.

New York, 1799.

New Jersey, 1804.

Consequently we find that the spirit of revolt which tried to co-oper
ate by means of insurrection led to widespread organization for the
rescue of fugitive slaves among Negroes themselves, and developed
before the war in the North and during and after the war in the South,
into various co-operative efforts toward economic emancipation and
land -buying. Gradually these efforts led to co-operative business,
building and loan associations and trade unions. On the other hand,
the Underground Railroad led directly to various efforts at migration,
especially to Canada, and in some cases to Africa. These migra
tions in our day have led to certain Negro towns and settlements; arid
finally from the efforts at migration began the various conventions of
Negroes which have endeavored to organize them into one national
body, and give them a group consciousness. Let us now notice in de
tail certain of these steps toward co-operation. We have already spoken
of insurrections and can now take up the Underground Railroad and
the co-operative efforts during emancipation, and the various schemes
of migration.

Section 6. The Underground Railroad

From the beginning of the nineteenth century slaves began to escape
in considerable numbers from the region south of Mason and Dixon s
line and the Ohio to the North. Even here, however, they were not
safe from the fugitive slave laws, and soon after 1812 the Negro soldiers
and sailors discovered a surer refuge in Canada and the tide set thither.
Gradually between 1830 and 1850 there were signs of definite concerted
co-operation to assist fugitives which came to be known as the Under
ground Railroad. The organization is best known from the side of the
white abolitionists who aided and sheltered the fugitives and furnished
them means.

But it must not be forgotten that back of these helpers must have lain
a more or less conscious co-operation and organization on the part of
the colored people. In the first place, the running away of slaves was
too systematic to be accidental; without doubt there was widespread
knowledge of paths and places and times for going. Constant com
munication between the land of freedom and the slave states must be
kept up by persons going and coming, and there can be no doubt but
that the Negro organization back of the Underground Railroad was
widespread and very effective. Redpath, writing just before the war,
says: u ln the Canadian provinces there are thousands of fugitive
slaves; they are the picked men of the Southern states, many of them

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Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 3 of 22)