Available historical scholarship demonstrates that the community and family were central pillars in the life of African Americans struggling to build an identity and socioeconomic base immediately after slavery.
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Arguments have been propagated on how the adverse effects of slavery generated the propensity for a weak and fatherless African American family that could not progress during slavery and emancipation (Tolman 6). However, this paper assumes a different approach by presenting evidence to demonstrate that the family and community were at the core of fulfilling a multiplicity of political, social and cultural roles that enabled African Americans to develop their identity and chart their own future.
It is important to mention that, during slavery and emancipation, African Americans viewed families in the context of kin networks that were largely responsible for forming the social basis of their own communities (Tolman 6). Consequently, as acknowledged by this author, African American slaves who were violently cut off from their immediate or extended families adapted to the intricate circumstances by creating family units with other slaves based on locality and work-related factors.
The capacity to confer the status of kin on non-blood relations provided the African Americans with the needed impetus to stick together after slavery and to fight for their political and civic rights, including the right to vote (Grossman 68). It can therefore be argued that the status of kin and community built on non-blood relations acted as a rallying call for African Americans to continue fighting for their political and democratic rights in a White-dominated society.
In discussing the social roles, it is important to note that most African Americans relied on kin and community networks to help them raise their children in the eventuality that they were held captive, or to assume the role of “aunt” or “uncle” to children of other African Americans held in captivity (Tolman 6).
It is indicated in the literature that many African Americans relied on the family and the community to not only petition the Bureau to gain the release of black children from apprenticeship, but also to assist the freedwomen in providing care for young siblings (Kelley 270).
It is also evident how African Americans relied on their families and community when they were sick and in need of spiritual guidance, and how such reliance on kinship reinforced their own community and provided men and women with an opportunity to gain status in their own groups.
In cultural roles, the community and family not only became the reference point of the way of life of African Americans, but also served to safeguard the cultural bonds that fueled the people’s desire to overcome the many challenges put before them by a White-dominated society. Owing to the community and family setup, African Americans “named and nurtured their children, expected loyalty from them, and tutored them in how to survive in slavery” (Tolman 6).
Indeed, this particular author argues that African Americans forged a culture that was embedded in family values, and would rather tolerate worse forms of punishment (e.g., starvation, augmented workload and administration of aggression) than the separation from their nuclear and/or extended families. Additionally, the strong cultural bond played a significant role in reuniting freed slaves with their families and in ensuring that African Americans remained united in the struggle for economic independence.
Overall, this paper has demonstrated the various political, social and economic roles that the community and family played in the lives of African Americans, particularly towards the end of slavery and into the emancipation era. From the discussion, it is evident that the community and family formed central pillars in the lives of African Americans, especially in terms of helping them to maintain their identity, focus on their political and social problems, and fight for political and economic independence.
Grossman, James R. “A Chance to Make Good: 1900-1929.” To Make our World Anew: Volume II, A History of African Americans since 1880. Ed. Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 265-342. Print.
Kelley, Robin D.G. “Into the Fire: 1970 to the Present.” To Make our World Anew: Volume II, A History of African Americans since 1880. Ed. Robin D.G. Kelley and Earl Lewis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. 67-130. Print.
Tolman, Tristan L. The Effects of Slavery and Emancipation on African-American Families and Family History Research. PDF file. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://www.leaveafamilylegacy.com/African_American_Families.pdf>.