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291 Sarah Dudley Pettey “A New Age Woman” and the Politics of Race, Class, and Gender in North Carolina Elizabeth Lundeen    “There has been a tendency for centuries remote to crush the aspirations of womanhood, if those aspirations rose above the level of the common housewife. It was thought that her mission was to prepare the food, sweep the house, mend the clothes and rock the cradle. Well this may have been the height of the Colonial dame’s ambition; but the nineteenth century chronicles the advent of the new woman. She is a creature to be admired, for she is an all around woman.” In 1896 Sarah E. C. Dudley Pettey penned these words for her “Woman’s Column,” published weekly in the Star of Zion, the respected organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. An African American woman born into the first generation of freedom, Dudley Pettey demonstrated through her writing that black women were speaking out on women’s equality, both within the church and in society at large. Indeed, her affirmation of the late nineteenth-century “all around woman”—a woman who concerned herself with both private and public affairs—signaled that women’s entry into the public sphere was hardly the purview of white women only. The “all around woman,” Sarah Dudley Pettey believed, was necessarily attuned to the struggle for racial equality as well. She refused to see the advancement of women and the advancement of African Americans as mutually exclusive goals. Instead, she viewed her work toward these ends as intertwined. Like many of her contemporaries in North Carolina’s growing black middle class, Dudley Pettey envisioned the path to racial equality as an upward climb. African American leaders could stand as examples to their struggling brothers and sisters and lift them up, thereby contributing to the improvement of the entire race. Educated, industrious, and pious African Americans would prove to Sarah Dudley Pettey From James Walker Hood, One Hundred Years of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (New York: ame Zion Book Concern, 1895), 539. Scan courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Sarah Dudley Pettey 293 whites that they were deserving of equal citizenship and nothing less. Achieving this became increasingly important as southern whites sought to disfranchise black voters and silence their voices. Because Sarah Dudley Pettey saw women as worthy participants in public affairs, she viewed them as integral partners in the quest to refashion American society as color-blind. Dudley Pettey lived during a transitional period for African Americans in North Carolina, bounded on one side by the end of Reconstruction and on the other by the enactment of Jim Crow laws, codifying white supremacy in the late 1890s and early 1900s. At the beginning of her career as a staff writer for the Star, African Americans in the state had reason to be hopeful for their future. Electoral victories by a fusion of Republican and Populist candidates, who cooperated in an effort to defeat Democrats at the state level, gave black North Carolinians reason to be optimistic. These so-called Fusionists enacted a series of laws increasing funding for public education and taking steps to multiply the number of registered voters in the state. Both reforms benefited African Americans immeasurably, with black schools springing up and the number of black officeholders reaching new heights since the days of Reconstruction. But African Americans’ hopes were quickly dashed as white supremacists moved to dismantle Fusionist reforms in the election of 1898. As black North Carolinians faced disfranchisement, Sarah Dudley Pettey struggled to re-envision her world without electoral politics. Her life provides a lens through which to view the transition in black leaders’ strategies for “racial progress.” Although she did not live to see the end of this transition, Sarah Dudley Pettey’s promotion of women’s public work and middle-class values served as an inspiration to subsequent black leaders who fought to secure improvements, however meager, for African Americans during the nadir of race relations in North Carolina. Sarah E. C. Dudley was born on November 9, 1869, to Edward and Caroline Dudley in New Bern, North Carolina. Under slavery, Edward had labored as a foreman in a tobacco factory in Salisbury. Emancipated at the close of the Civil War, Edward began work as a cooper in New Bern, and soon after he entered public service as a member of the local police force. Edward served as an...


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