Examine how African- Americans developed their own form of mutual aid after slavery ended in the United States.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that this becomes one of the critical issues that emerges from Reconstruction.  In reconstructing life after slavery, there is not much in way of mutual aid amongst African- Americans being encouraged in life in the United States.  The Reconstruction principles and actions did much to develop an external notion of how newly freed African- Americans should live in the new post- slavery world.  Mutual aid and support amongst African- Americans was not necessarily encouraged.

For many African- Americans, to develop their own mutual aid and support networks were heavily discouraged.  To a great extent, African- Americans were encouraged to either accept help from White government agencies such as the Freedman's Bureau.  African- Americans were also encouraged to remain in positions that lacked economic and social power.  In a sense this position of "minding their own business" helped to deny any notion of social cohesion and mutual aid and support.  This is evident in how many African- Americans after the Civil War simply remained in their pre- war positions in the South.  The adoption of Jim Crow laws helped to enhance this social stratification, one in which African- Americans were encouraged to not seek and fortify  mutual aid with one another.

One thinker that did speak towards the idea of developing mutual aid and a sense of social empowerment was W.E.B. DuBois.  In talking about the condition of African- Americans that existed in America after the Civil War, DuBois encouraged African- Americans to develop mutual aid and support amongst one another.  He argued that in recognizing the connective universality that they share as being a part of "the color line," mutual aid could be encouraged.  The "veil" of ethnic identity that binds them was seen as a force that could galvanize them and develop mutual aid with one another.  DuBois sees this condition is one that ‘‘unites Black men." Mutual aid and support could be generated ‘above all, from the sight of the ‘‘veil” that hung between us and Opportunity.’’  It is here in which there is clear encouragement of the development of mutual aid between African- Americans after the Civil War.