NEVERTHELESS, SHE PERSISTED
Maria (nee Miller )Stewart was the first woman to speak before a “promiscuous” audience, i.e. men and women, black and white in early 19th century America. She was the first African-American woman to lecture about women’s rights. Stewart focused particularly on the rights of black women, religion, and social justice among black people. She also became the first African-American woman to make public anti-slavery speeches and is one of the first African-American women to make public lectures for which there are still surviving copies.
“Most of our color have dragged out a miserable existence of servitude from the cradle to the grave. And what literary acquirements can be made, or useful knowledge derived, from either maps, books or charm, by those who continually drudge from Monday morning until Sunday noon? O, ye fairer sisters, whose hands are never soiled, whose nerves and muscles are never strained, go learn by experience! Had we had the opportunity that you have had, to improve our moral and mental faculties, what would have hindered our intellects from being as bright, and our manners from being as dignified as yours?… And why are not our forms as delicate, and our constitutions as slender, as yours? Is not the workmanship as curious and complete? Have pity upon us, have pity upon us, O ye who have hearts to feel for other’s woes; for the hand of God has touched us. Owing to the disadvantages under which we labor, there are many flowers among us that are…born to bloom unseen.
Stewart’s address in 1832 at Boston’s Franklin Hall, is notable in that Stewart used it to support a vision of black nationalism. Framed as a “black jeremiad”, Stewart’s speech followed in the tradition of the jeremiad as a rhetorical device in American discourse and refers to the prophet Jeremiah, author of the book of Lamentations. It is a melancholy disputation and it embodies warnings of further judgment and greater sufferings to come. Maria Stewart’s “black jeremiad” then was a means by which a black American woman warned whites of “the judgment that was to come for the sin of slavery.”
See more information on Maria Stewart at: http://www.blackpast.org/1832-maria-w-stewart-why-sit-ye-here-and-die#sthash.Hg3OKlKl.dpuf
For more background on Maria Stewart’s 1832 speech: http://archive.vod.umd.edu/civil/stewart1832int.htm
Link here for pix and info about Maria Stewart and six other women whose feminism was necessarily radicalized by the simple act of standing up and speaking out as Black women. http://bit.ly/1zRHA7O
Read a book of Maria Stewart’s speeches
I’m old enough to have remembered the events as portrayed in Ava Duverney’s film, “Selma.” Everything about the film seemed pitch perfect to me though I realized while watching that the lesson, for me, was that we Americans do not see things in the same ways. I can’t actually explain why this continues to surprise me. I remember the excitement of MLK’s speeches. I remember his words as always reasonable, charitable, intelligent. When I recall that people didn’t agree, that some people still don’t, I still shake my head in disbelief.
Kudos to Ms. Duverney for her beautiful film. Like so many Black women artists before her, she has made a way from no way.
For Your FEBRUARY enrichment read:
ANGELS MAKE THEIR HOPE HERE
STAND THE STORM
RIVER, CROSS MY HEART
for more information about Breena Clarke’s books: www.BreenaClarke.com