After reading Tera Hunter s book, To Joy My Freedom, it becomes very obvious that Malcolm X did not originate the belief of, by any means necessary . African Americans had this mind set from day one of their freedom. It was by any means necessary that African American men and women sought out to gain respect and happiness. Hunter gives many examples of the methods and strategies used in this pursuit. African Americans came together in the south as one large community and fought against injustice. Blacks organized protests, formed secret societies and trade organizations, resorted to leisure activities, and migrated to escape the harsh conditions of the south.
First of all, as a means of gaining respect and happiness African Americans protested through strikes. One example of a strike involved the laundry workers in Jackson, Mississippi. The women were fed up with the low wages that they were receiving. They complained that the wages were not enough for them to carry on honest and decent lives. The present high prices of all the necessaries of life , the petition read, and the attendant high rates of rent, while our wages remain very much reduced, made it impossible to live uprightly and honestly (75). It was on June 18, 1866 that the women decided to take action. They put together a letter and formal petition to the mayor. The women voiced their opinions, in hope that the mayor would help out their cause. We present the matter to your honor, and hope you will not reject it as the condition of prices call on us to raise our wages (75). The outcome of the strike is unknown, but it is believed that the achievements are far more important. The women showed that they were capable of organizing themselves and presenting fair conditions as a solution to their problem. The women were willing to strike in order to gain happiness and respect.
Another example of protest by African Americans in their hunt of happiness was the contracting of petitions. In Atlanta, by the 1860s blacks were growing irritated with the lack of representation in higher up positions in society. This led them to petition federal and local officials. In the 1860s and 1870s, they [blacks] had petitioned local and federal officials to hire black police officers and teachers, to provide jobs on the state railroads, to build school buildings, to pave streets, and to deliver potable water and sewer connections (85). Unfortunately, in the year of 1870, not due to the lack of effort on the part of African Americans, only two blacks were elected to city office. This, of course, did not keep blacks from running for office. African Americans would continue to run for office until 1890, although no others would be elected until 1953 (84). It is obvious that petitions were efforts used by African Americans to move forward toward happiness.
African Americans also protested against injustice through marches. Protests were definitely a popular resistant tactic used by African Americans during Reconstruction. During economic depression in the 1870s large cuts in wages was very popular. This led to a protest in Galveston, which included white men as well as black men. On July 31, 1877, the men began a procession down the streets of Island City to protest against low wages and to refuse further cuts (77). The city intervened, but did not completely stop the strikers from receiving positive results. Despite the city s efforts to break the strike with use of force and intimidation, the strikers saw some positive results as some employers began to accede to their demands (77). This effort by African American males definitely helped blacks in their journey towards happiness and respect.
Secondly, another method used by blacks to gain happiness and respect was the forming of secret societies and trade organizations. In early July of 1881, twenty women and a few men met in a church in the Summer Hill neighborhood to form a trade organization (88). That meeting was the start of the Washing Society, an organization that elected officers, appointed committees, designated subsidiary societies, and established a uniform rate for wash. According to Hunter s book, Atlanta s domestic workers associations adopted the institutional framework of secret societies. This meant that these societies were resilient and generated labor-inspired protests. Another organization that was created was the Working Women s Society. Hunter s book defined this society as being a mutual aid and trade organization that instituted an alternative to the moneylenders by lending funds to its members without interest. Secret societies and trade organizations were developed by African Americans to help each other gain the happiness and respect that they so deserved.
In addition to forming trade organizations and secret societies blacks also turned to leisure activities to help in their pursuit of happiness in Atlanta and other parts of the south. A popular leisure activity was dancing. Nighttime leisure on Atlanta s Decatur Street was incomplete without a stop in the popular dance halls (168). These dance halls were also known as jook joints . Of course every outlet that African Americans turned to in order to escape their current conditions stirred up controversy. According to To Joy My Freedom, the places of dance were credited with influencing crime, drinking, and sex. Employers were the strongest critics. Taxes and laws were imposed to put a stop to dancing, but they did not work. As a result of dance halls, jook joints , a musical form emerged known as the blues. Music would inspire the gestures of dancers. Music and dance gave blacks a sense of empowerment. The feelings of self-empowerment and transcendence emanating from the blues and dance were evident in the power African Americans invested in sound and bodily movement and in the particular ways that they generated these forces, especially through the use of polyrhythms (184). It is evident that African Americans turned to leisure activities such as dancing to find happiness.
Finally, African Americans also migrated in their search for happiness. Hunter s book clearly states that black women in Atlanta traveled many miles since the civil war. The book also implies that the beginning of the First World War led black men and women to hit the road again, not to other parts of the south, but out of the south entirely. It was not only the war that made African Americans eager to live behind the south, mobilization was also inspired by the release of Birth of a Nation. The release of this film sparked the revivification of the Ku Klux Klan. Advertisements for the hooded order and the Birth of a Nation appeared side by side in local newspapers (221). The conclusion of WWI saw an increase in the KKK army. This definitely intimidated the blacks in the south, which was clearly seen through their reactions and words. A willen working women voiced this sentiment in a letter to the Chicago Defender: We are in a land of starvaten, she explained. I hope that you will healp me as I want to get out of this land of sufring (222). African Americans were now leaving the south, where they had came in hopes of finding a better future. The north was the destination for many. Hunter s book states it loud in clear that many blacks deemed it necessary to leave the south in order to find the happiness that they hunted.
In conclusion, To Joy My Freedom shows that African Americans were willing to go to any length to escape the oppression that they felt in the south. . African Americans joined together as a community and organized protests, formed secret societies and trade organizations, occupied themselves with leisure activity, and migrated to the north. In Hunter s book, blacks were given voices that many of us have never heard before. Washerwomen were prolific organizers of strikes, successful trade organizations and secret societies. I am glad that Hunter opened up my ears so that I might hear the voice of these women, and other small black heroes. Although To Joy My Freedom was an excellent book, it had its shortcomings. The book jumped back and forth between years and was somewhat repetitive. I do, however, believe that this book is a necessity to learning about the African American experience in the south.