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The Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves

Another of Birmingham pioneering anti-slavery groups, again with a Sturge connection (both Joseph's sister Sophia, and his second wife Hannah were members) was the Female Society for the Relief of British Negro Slaves. Started in 1825, the aim of the Society, as set out in its first annual report, was to waken attention, circulate information, and introduce to the notice of the affluent and influential classes... a knowledge of the real state of suffering and humiliation under which British Slaves yet groan. Subscriptions were collected from members of the Society as well as donations from other interested parties, and the monies then forwarded to anti-slavery groups in Britain or overseas. Amongst the Society's records held in the archives is a copy of one of their albums, put together and distributed throughout the country as a form of anti-slavery propaganda designed to highlight their cause, and raise further funds.

Amanda Smith

Along with the wider fight against slavery, the Society was also responsible for funding specific projects, two of which involved important black American activists of the nineteenth century. The first, Booker Taliaferro Washington, was responsible for founding the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, a college that continues today. Washington had been born a slave, but after gaining an education in Virginia he became a teacher, eventually being offered the job of Principal at the Tuskegee Institute in 1881. Washington saw education as the key to improving the situation and status of America slaves, and was the first black man to dine at the White House; a letter of thanks was sent by the Ladies Society to the President, Theodore Roosevelt, commenting:

'This kind deed has cheered and encouraged us in our work, and we trust that this proof of your desire to lessen the separation between the races will help toward the uplifting of the coloured people of the United States.'

Regular financial support was also given by the Society to aid the work of Amanda Smith (1837 - 1915). Born into slavery in the United States, Smith's father bought his freedom and that of his family. Smith herself was educated at home, and in 1863 moved with her second husband to New York City. It was here that she began her long career of preaching, and by 1869 she was regularly attending African-American churches in New York and New Jersey. Smith's success before a largely white audience at a holiness camp meeting in 1870 led her to commit herself entirely to evangelism. Travelling widely over the next few years, she came to England in 1878, and attended a meeting of the Ladies Society in the following year. This visit started a relationship that was to continue for the rest of Smith's life. In 1890 she returned to the United States with the idea of opening an orphanage for African-American children.

After many years difficult fund-raising - Smith said in a letter to the Society 'those willing to assist a coloured woman are poor themselves and the means I seek for the good work come very slowly in' - the orphanage opened its doors in 1899, one of the first for African-American children in the state of Illinois. During its operation, the Female Society continued to fund it, receiving regular reports from Amanda Smith herself. Smith finally retired from running the orphanage in 1912, which was subsequently renamed the Amanda Smith Industrial School for Girls. Moving to Florida, she died in 1915. Sadly, the orphanage she had fought so hard to establish no longer exists today, having been destroyed in a fire in 1918.

Supporting these and other causes, the Female Society continued to operate until 1919, when it issued its 93rd and final annual report. By this time, only one member of the original committee remained, and the Society felt that it was time to pass the torch on to younger and fitter hands.

'Some Common Bond' Birmingham Black International History
Joseph Sturge and the Anti-Slavery Society
Avtar Singh Jouhl and the Indian Workers Association
Avtar Singh Jouhl and the Indian Workers Association continued ...
Henry Gunter and the Afro-Caribbean Organisation
The Birmingham Anti-Apartheid Movement
The Birmingham Anti-Apartheid Movement continued...
Black History in Birmingham Libraries