Answer: The Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League
In 1864, famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass formed the National Equal Rights League in Syracuse, New York, in order to press equal rights for blacks after the Emancipation Proclamation. Shortly thereafter, African Americans in other states began forming their own branches of the league, including in Pennsylvania. A number of prominent individuals who had been involved in the anti-slavery movement were named to the state’s chapter of the league, such as Octavius Catto and Jacob C. White Jr.
During the latter half of the 1800s, the league took on numerous issue facing blacks: education reform, streetcar rights, suffrage, and segregation. One conundrum that it faced was that the league knew it had to work with a gain support from white political allies in order to succeed, however, these same allies were still seen as enemies by some. Still, the league regularly consorted with white abolitionists, and it made considerable headway in its attempts to bridge racial divides.
The Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League disbanded in 1877. Prior to that, it witnessed significant highs and lows, from the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 granting black men the right to vote, from the assassination of one its leader, Octavius Catto, in that same year. The league also played its part in leaning on Congress to pass the 14th Amendment, which stated: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States…are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” This amendment ensured the civil rights of all Americans, including newly freed slaves.
HSP’s library contains several publications from the Pennsylvania State Equal Rights League. The collection of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society also contain numerous manuscripts on issues concerning African Americans, freemen, slaves, and former slaves, after the Civil War.