In northern cities, free black men formed associations and mutual aid societies. Although motivated by the same spirit of pride, self-help, and social conscience that drove the formation of white associations, blacks were often mocked for their efforts to improve their situations and the communities in which they lived. In Boston the African Society, founded in 1796, provided “financial relief and job placement to its members and their families,” and encouraged education.  The African Society took a strong moral stance, insisting on law-abiding behavior and denying benefits to members who engaged in drunkenness.  Every year on July fourteenth the African Society held a parade to celebrate the anniversary of the British abolition of the African slave trade. Although newspapers reported that the event was conducted with dignity and accompanied by prayers and a sermon, anti-black elements made it an opportunity to satirize blacks for imitating their “betters” and trying to rise above their station. The broadside Grand Bobalition, or “Great Annibersary Fussible” caricatures the participants and contains a long conversation, written in demeaning dialect, between “Scipio Similax” and “Mungo Meanwell.” The woodcut illustration of the parade shows men in military-style uniforms, wearing hats with plumes, marching two abreast. The leaders carry batons, and some of the men carry spears and a flag.  It is possible that some of these men are members of the African Masonic Lodge organized in Boston in the 1780s under the auspices of the Grand Lodge of England,  and later renamed the Prince Hall Lodge in honor of its first Grand Master.  Many leaders of Boston’s black community were members of both the African Society and the African Masonic Lodge, and both organizations worked actively for the abolition of slavery.

download high-res image | online record | < figure 37

 

 

 

 

 

 

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