"I could not rest"

Elizabeth Keckley (1818–1907). Behind the Scenes or Forty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. New York: G. W. Carlton, 1868. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress 

One fair summer evening I was walking the streets of Washington, accompanied by a friend, when a band of music was heard in the distance. We wondered what it could mean, and curiosity prompted us to find out its meaning. We quickened our steps, and discovered that it came from the house of Mrs. Farnham. The yard was brilliantly lighted, ladies and gentlemen were moving about, and the band was playing some of its sweetest airs. We approached the sentinel on duty at the gate, and asked what was going on. He told us that it was a festival given for the benefit of the sick and wounded soldiers in the city. This suggested an idea to me. If the white people can give festivals to raise funds for the relief of suffering soldiers, why should not the well-to-do colored people go to work to do something for the benefit of the suffering blacks? I could not rest. The thought was ever present with me, and the next Sunday I made a suggestion in the colored church, that a society of colored people be formed to labor for the benefit of the unfortunate freedmen. The idea proved popular, and in two weeks “the Contraband Relief Association” was organized, with forty working members.

Elizabeth Keckley (1818–1907). Behind the Scenes or Forty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. New York: G. W. Carlton, 1868. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

This blog complements the Library of Congress exhibition, “The Civil War in America.” This series of posts chronicles the sacrifices and accomplishments of those—from both the North and South—whose lives were lost or affected by the events of 1861–1865. To learn more about the object featured in this blog entry, visit the online exhibition.