During the American Civil War, black women increasingly published opinion pieces in the form of letters, short essays, and, in one case, serialised fiction in the African Methodist Episcopal newspaper, The Christian Recorder. This article argues that, collectively, these women’s voices contributed to a developing black intellectualism of the early nineteenth century, setting the precedent for black feminist thinking of the Reconstruction period and beyond. Through their public literary activism, these women challenged the boundaries of the gendered and racialised spaces of the public and private spheres. Through a series of case studies published in the Christian Recorder from 1861 to 1866, this article reflects on the ways in which these women developed a conscious writing self which should be understood as literary activism. These women wrote under the most difficult of circumstances in a period of conflict, yet they persisted in having their voices heard. Collectively, they wrote about the importance of action, the influence of women on the African American nation, and the vital influence of women’s role in education for racial uplift. This article thus places the literary activism of these women front and centre and highlights the power of their words for subsequent generations.