African Society for Mutual Relief
As soon as it was legal for black New Yorkers to organize, they did so. In 1808, the African Society for Mutual Relief was founded. (The Society may have met in secret earlier, but there are no records to prove it.) At that time, black children could not go to white schools. If their parents died, white orphanages were closed to them. Insurance companies would not sell policies to African Americans. Even graveyards were segregated. As a result, the Society formed a much-needed safety net for African American families and small businesses. Members’ dues paid for burial costs and a form of health insurance. If a member died, their widow and children received help.
In 1810, the New York Legislature granted their petition and the Society became the first incorporated African American association. Members celebrated the event with a parade and took to the streets carrying silk banners and signs. The association grew quickly.
In the beginning money was short, but in 1820 a former Haitian slave named Juliet Toussaint donated enough money for a plot of land and a meetinghouse at 42 Baxter Street (called Orange Street then). Located in the Five Points neighborhood, the African Hall for Mutual Relief became an important meeting place, a school, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. It was also a target. In the anti-abolitionist riot of 1834, a white mob attacked the Hall, breaking all the windows and wrecking the place. But the society survived that riot, as well as the draft riot of 1863, and lasted until 1945.
This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International