I have asked several individuals of my sex, who transact business for themselves, if providing our girls were to give them the most satisfactory references, they would not be willing to grant them an equal opportunity with others? Their reply has been - for their own part, they had no objection; but as it was not the custom, were they to take them into their employ, they would be in danger of losing the public patronage. (45)
The impact of Mary Ann Shadd Cary's rhetoric in support of women's labor rights was felt at the Colored National Labor Union Convention in 1860. After her address to the body, a resolution was passed that "as unjust discrimination in the departments of labor is made against women...colored women be cordially included in the invitation to further and organize cooperative societies" (Foner and Lewis 55). In a speech to the Women's Congress, published in the January 1878 issue of Englishwoman's Review, Frances Harper recalled the many independent black working women she had met during her travels throughout the Reconstruction South. She described women who raised poultry and hogs, farmed, sold baked goods, manufactured sugar, and engaged in bookkeeping, many of them using their income to buy their own homes without the assistance of men (Harper, "Coloured" 10-15).
Writing about Baptist women who lectured to Northern white women during the last two decades of the century, historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham observes that "[t]hese black women articulated eloquently through their words and example the merit of `woman's work for woman'" (Righteous 102). Their words advocated for broader definitions of work that honored the dignity of all honest labor and, at the same time, challenged audiences to engage in what they deemed the most honorable work of all - the work of race uplift.
The persuasive discourse selected for analysis was produced in this context, much of it presented at church and educators' conferences convened in the late 1880s and the 1890s, specifically to discuss problems of blacks in the nadir. I selected church discourse since the church served a central role in black women's racial uplift work.