|Like many of the "race women" of
this period, committed to the cause rather than to public performance, she was known for
her simple manner and common sense. Nannie Helen Burroughs made these remarks regarding
her own speaking style: "I speak from sketchy notes or extemporaneously when I think
I'm full enough to surcharge the listeners. I am in earnest, and I have no axe to grind. I
do not speak when I'm lukewarm on a subject. I do not speak to show off" (Boulware
It is perhaps appropriate to begin a discussion of persuasive discourse, crafted to cultivate home uplift, with a speech by Lucy Laney, because of her belief that racial uplift began in the home, with the woman in the most privileged position, as mother and teacher, to regenerate and uplift. In her "Address Before the Women's Meeting," Laney extolled the virtues of motherhood, stressing the importance of children being brought up in a home watched over by "a manly and God-fearing husband" and "a womanly and God-fearing wife," declaring motherhood the highest achievement of woman and the "crown of woman-hood" (56).
She denied that politics, education, or religion alone was the answer but argued rather that all three combined would ensure improvement. Calling the Negro citizen "the youngest child of civilization," Laney devoted the speech to considering what this child needed to do if she expected to grow up and "claim the boon" (55). While she emphasized the role of women and girls, Laney also requested that boys be brought up with as much attention as girls, not reared according to a false double standard that assumes "boys will be boys." The appeal parallels one made by Mary Ann Shadd Cary in March 21, 1872, letter to the editor of the New National Era, the Washington newspaper published by Frederick Douglass. While the paper was unsuccessful, "many of the ablest colored men of our country," according to Douglass, "made it the medium through which to convey their thoughts to the public" (Douglass, Life and Times 400). By 1872 Cary would surely have been counted among those able "men," being an agent for the New National Era who contributed occasional articles.