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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > African Americans 1880-1920 > Working
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.

Working : Finding a Place


Economic opportunities remained limited for most African Americans in the decades following the Civil War. Racism, economic downturns and agricultural crises combined to encourage hundreds of thousands of southern blacks to migrate north in search of a better life. Within a single generation, these once agrarian people developed a distinctly urban lifestyle and culture.

Even in the North, however, African Americans did not enjoy the same social and economic mobility experienced by millions of European immigrants arriving in the same period. Many employers preferred to hire native-born whites and immigrants for higher paying industrial jobs. Others believed that blacks were farmers by nature and were thus ill suited to industrial employment. To make matters worse, most trade unions excluded African Americans, effectively shutting them out of the labor movement. These economic and social barriers limited employment opportunities for black men to the most taxing, dangerous and menial positions. Opportunities for black women were still more restricted, confined mainly to domestic service in white households. Mary, the woman in this photograph, worked for the Lamsons, a wealthy family in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

Schools established to educate African Americans like the Hampton Institute in Virginia and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama trained students for work in agricultural, domestic and industrial trades. Black leaders like Booker T. Washington believed that African Americans had to achieve economic self-sufficiency before white society would accept them as equals. W.E.B. DuBois did not share Washington's optimism that better education and job training would eliminate racism and other stumbling blocks to prosperity. DuBois and others stressed the need to elevate the minds and self-esteem of African Americans. "The idea should not be simply to make men carpenters, but to make carpenters men," argued DuBois. Meanwhile, Northern blacks like Mary continued to carve out lives for themselves and their families in cities and towns throughout the North.


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Mary: Lamson family servant

photographer   J. K. Patch
date   c. 1867
location   Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
height   3.5"
width   2.12"
process/materials   albumen print
item type   Photograph/Photograph
accession #   #2000.19.22.01

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See Also...

Doll "Chloe"

John Putnam (c.1817-1895)

"Learning By Doing At Hampton"

"Cotillion Party at Whitney Hall! In Shelburne Falls, Friday Dec 17th, 1858"

Mary: Lamson family servant

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