The "shame" Laney saw as a consequence of nonlegalized slave marriages, poor parenting skills, and ignorance of hygiene.  Twentieth-century scholars who write about slave family life paint a less bleak picture of that environment. Angela Davis, for example, in Women, Race and Class, discussed the pride with which enslaved men and women "manifested irrepressible talent in humanizing an environment designed to convert them into a herd of subhuman labor units" (15), with many couples choosing to remain together in the absence of legality. If not entirely accurate as to a cause, Laney was clear as to the effects to be addressed. The large numbers of young men and women incarcerated provided evidence of the "crime"; the crime, however, was not one they had committed but the crime of a system that forced young black men and women to work on road gangs for alleged misdemeanors. At the 1896 meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women in Washington, D.C., Victoria Matthews had reported on the effects of the chain gang laws she had observed during her travels in the South. She noted that children were serving fifteen- and twenty-year sentences for minor offenses (History 41). For Laney, the "prejudice" came from those in power, who made it difficult to overcome the other two burdens.

     What appears to be an elitist appeal to a specific class of black women, "the woman of culture and character," is strong here. Throughout the address, Laney stressed the importance of having a certain type of woman do this uplift work. Laney, no doubt, viewed hers as a call to those who had acquired education and other valuable experiences to be involved in lifting not because it was fashionable but because it was a responsibility, a duty, and, in fact, a heavy burden. Laney targeted a specific category of women, variously referred to as "the educated colored woman," "the intelligent woman," "Negro women of culture," "the refined and noble Negro woman," "our cultured women," and "Cultured Negro women." Laney stressed that "only those of character and culture [could] do successful lifting, for she who would mould character must possess it" (343). In a section discussing church work, she drew a clear distinction between the women designated for this work and other women:

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August 1999