The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of the first official black units in the U.S. armed forces. Led by the white officer Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment was met with disdain by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who accused President Lincoln of encouraging a black revolt. Though promised equal pay, the black soldiers were initially paid less than their white counterparts. The 54th Regiment refused to collect their unequal payment, and Congress eventually relented. The regiment suffered several hundred casualties at the battle of Fort Wagner, but established a reputation for heroism and helped to significantly bolster the Union’s recruitment of black troops.
Congressmen and citizens of Washington, D.C. established the African Education Society of the United States on December 28, 1829. The society aimed to provide an education for persons of African descent that would “qualify them for usefulness and influence in Africa”. Membership included abolitionists and slave owners from surrounding states.
Formed in 1833, the American Anti-Slavery Society became the largest and most influential abolitionist organization in the United States. Before the organization’s inception, organized antislavery activism was heavily intertwined with organizations that believed free blacks should be removed from the United States. The American Anti-Slavery Society created a network of newspaper “agents” and lecturers to spread their message that slavery was contrary to the Christian religion and that blacks were equal to whites. These efforts were hugely successful, spurring over 1,000 anti-slavery societies throughout the North. Disagreements within the organization led to a split in 1840.
Presbyterian Reverend Robert Finley founded the American Colonization Society on December 28, 1816 with the assistance of Elias B. Caldwell, Francis Scott Key (Star-Spangled Banner fame), and other influential whites. The organization wanted to send free and recently freed African Americans “back to Africa” as a way to rid the United States of free black labor and promote Christian morality and industry on the African coast. Finley’s connections to many wealthy businessmen, slave owners and government officials earned the organization $100,000 to relocate freed men and women. Significant involvement from slave owners deterred African American support.
The Boston Committee of Vigilance was founded in 1846 following the capture of a fugitive from New Orleans. The committee raised money to provide shelter, medical care and food for runaways. Outrage over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 breathed new life into the organization, making it one of the most active abolitionist groups in the country. The committee was involved in several high profile rescue attempts, including the rescues of Shadrach Minkins and Anthony Burns.
Robert Banks, William C. Monroe and William Lambert formed the Colored Vigilant Committee in 1842. Lambert and Monroe announced the committee’s intentions in a letter printed in The Signal of Liberty. In addition to aiding runaways, the committee wanted to secure voting rights for African American men and see that black children received an adequate education equal to white students. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 stimulated the committee, which would go on to help thousands of men, women and children escape to Canada.
Richard Allen and Absalom Jones founded the Free African Society in 1787. The society providde financial aid to free blacks, specifically newly free blacks, with the goal of advancing Philadelphia’s black community. Members were required to pay dues and adhere to a strict code of conduct. The organization’s success inspired similar groups to form within Philadelphia and in other cities throughout the North. In 1794 it began operating as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas.
Inspired by the abolitionist movement in Britain, Elizabeth Chandler founded the Logan Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1832. Membership included Quakers, Presbyterians and other religious denominations. Beyond reading British anti-slavery literature, little is known about the organization’s activities.
The Manumission Society of North Carolina was founded in 1816 by anti-slavery Quakers. Though most of the organization’s membership belonged to the Society of Friends, its membership grew to include Protestants and slave-owners. The society established branches throughout the state, collectively meeting once a year to discuss their activities. In its most public act, the society published An Address to the People of North Carolina on the Evils of Slavery in 1830 but disbanded four years later following a dispute over colonization.
The Manumission Society of Tennessee was organized on February 25, 1815 in Jefferson County. Within a year the society had branches around the entire state. Delegates around the state were expected to meet once a month and the entire membership was expected openly advertise and support the organization. In 1820, member Elihu Embree began publishing the Emancipator, America’s first newspaper devoted entirely to the abolition of slavery.