Another casualty of this period was the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company. Established to encourage thrift and to provide a basis for sound economic development in the Black community, the company succumbed to the exploitation and improprieties of several of its white directors and was doomed by the financial panic of 1873. However, it was the ultimate betrayal of Black America in the Compromise of 1877 and the imposition of strict Black codes throughout much of the nation which were to have the greatest impact upon Blacks during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The strict Black codes, joined with the Supreme Court decision of 1896 which supported a doctrine of segregation and its attendant political conservatism, dramatically and negatively influenced Black life for many decades.

     While the national government had been a benefactor to Black America during the last days of slavery and through much of Reconstruction, locally, it was the city’s major industry. Many Black citizens of Washington, owing to the presence of Howard University and quality public education, were well-educated, became teachers, doctors, lawyers and preachers; and exerted a positive influence in the city. Although some prominent Blacks, such as Frederick Douglass, achieved patronage positions in government, most Black people did not greatly benefit from the government’s growth. Blacks in government service worked almost exclusively as clerks, messengers and laborers. Whatever few gains that had been made during the nineteenth century were quickly overcome by the rampant discrimination which characterized the last quarter of the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries. Coupled with Blacks being largely relegated to the lowest paying, least skilled positions, government had become as much an oppressor as it had been a benefactor during the years of Reconstruction. Black professionals often found too few opportunities to exploit their talents, although they contributed to Washington’s development of a stable Black middle class. In the face of discrimination, they built their own institutions to provide opportunities denied their people by racism, segregation and discrimination.

     Between the end of Reconstruction and the end of World War I, several important organizations were established in the city which contributed to whatever stability and cultural growth the Black community was able to achieve. These included the Bethel Literary and Historical Association (1881), Medico-Chirurgical Society (1884), Colored Women’s League (1892), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society, MuSoLit Club (1905), Second Baptist Lyceum and Congressional Lyceum. This period witnessed the creation of such important national organizations as the American Negro Academy (1897) and Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915). 


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November 2000