|"The less fortunate
women, already assembled in churches, are ready for work, they need the help and
leadership of their more favored sisters" (344; emphasis added). but Laney
was more interested in including than excluding here. She felt a strong personal
obligation to help those less fortunate members of the race, as demonstrated in her work
at the Haines Institute, and was concerned that many of her "favored sisters"
did not feel this obligation.
Reinforcing this sense of obligation, Laney's speech more than any others considered in this chapter exudes the imagery of uplift, beginning with the question in the second sentence, "how may it [the burden] be lifted?" and recurring as leitmotif throughout: "lend a hand to the lifting of those burdens," "forces to lighten and finally to lift this and all of these burdens," "successful lifting," "a very sore burden," "Start its people on the upward way," "The weight of which will sink us unless it is at once made lighter and finally lifted," "suffers under the weight of this burden," "she must help to lift it," and "the negro woman may lift much with this lever." This strong imagery of lifting a downtrodden race at times seems to place black people in such dire straits as to cause a level of despair surely not intended by Laney. The women of this period attributed this descendent state to slavery and felt that with the united energies of the "better women" of the race most of the ills could be corrected in a short time. Laney's call to action was in fact filled with an optimism about social work and collective effort not frequently articulated today.
During the last decades of the century, black women were speaking out in a number of venues about women's work and the work of racial uplift. For example, at just one evening session of the 1896 Convention of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, speeches were delivered on the following topics: training women for domestic service, woman's work in general, "defects" in the training of girls, and the ideal home. In the words of the convention recorder, "All papers were excellent, and it would be well if some method could be adopted to preserve these papers for the rising generation" (History 46).