The Fulcrum of African American National Identity
This chapter explores antebellum secret associations formed by black Americans. Even as European revolutionaries applied the standards of fraternalism to national purposes, similar organizations contributed directly to shaping black identity in America. In fact, black orders bore far greater resemblance to the European societies than most of those among white Americans. Context made black associations more overtly more political and made one fundamental labor reform unavoidable for an African American leadership described as bound in “the triple chord of Masonry, Church fellowship and Anti-Slavery association.” Most important, repressive conditions in America drove active resistance to slavery underground, making particularly relevant the accoutrements of fraternalism. As the explosive struggle over the extension of slavery into Kansas spurred radical activism among whites as well, the secret society tradition in America tapped ever more deeply into the experience of the African American—as well as European—associations.
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