Working it Out: From Emancipation to Economic Independence

After centuries of receiving no or minuscule compensation (by being hired out) for their labor, formerly enslaved people, at the stroke of a pen, were responsible for their own livelihood.

Seamstresses, servants, cooks, carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights and masons could ply their trade. Most, however, of this country’s enslaved workforce had been deployed to cultivate monocrops. No matter their occupation, they were responsible for negotiating wages, securing housing, paying rent, purchasing supplies, buying and/or growing their own food, clothing themselves and their families.  After centuries of laws that denied them literacy, property and ownership of their own bodies and those of their children, thousands of people were thrust into a world that did not welcome their newly acquired status.

Who better to tell the tale of these two worlds than Frederick Douglass in My Bondage My Freedom? From Douglass, we are better able to understand the journey of those who found themselves walking down Emancipation Road.

It had been a long walk, four hundred years long, with the Future of the Colored Race in America before them in a way it never had been before. There were dreams to fulfill, possibility’s promise of new occupations, interesting jobs as well as the goal of becoming your own Boss.

Freedom was an overwhelming task for which most were ill-prepared. For others there were, unbelievably, fortunes to be made, Black Fortunes.

Then, the road To The Promised Land took a turn. Some found that while they were no longer enslaved they were, still, field-bound and enmeshed in a system of Slavery By Another Name.

They had traveled across Miles of Smiles, Years of Struggle and they refused to stop, now.

Thrown a Curveball, they persisted even as they found themselves pawns of strikes, refused union membership and subjected to the same horrendous work conditions. But, there were those, such as A. Philip Randolph who shored up by their Struggles in Steel kept trying, kept moving forward with each incremental gain.

In the resource list Working It Out: From Emancipation to Economic Independence, discover stories of individuals, both previously enslaved and long free, who fought for worker’s rights, union representation, better jobs, salaries and employment opportunities for African Americans. You’ll find biographies of people with interesting occupations, people who have forged careers that would not have been possible except for their own drive and ambition, fueled by the foundation laid by the dedication and persistence of their forebears.

~ posted by Chris

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