Action of the Day - Frances Ellen Watkins Harper
Time & Location
About the Event
Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Stanton and so many others we have come to know as leaders of the Women's Suffrage movement were racist and publicy supported the oppression of Black women and men. They are celebrated and touted on coins, in textbooks, and in America's spaces and places as heroic - when for many they were villains unbashedly stepping on the necks of others. Black suffragettes were often refused a seat at meetings and conventions, barred from protests and treated as inferior and unwanted by their White counterparts.
Today, we hear a clear and beautiful Black female voice from the Reconstruction time period, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Today, we honor her bold truths, her fierce commitment to justice and equality, and her bravery to call out the very women who divided freedom - some for themselves, none for those not like them.Today, we repeat her truths so that history remembers herstory. A superbly accomplished professional, despite many sexist and racist barriers, she earned and held a coveted teaching position at a Seminary. She traveled the nation telling of freedom, mobilizing Black communities that were enslaved, uplifting her fellow abolotionists, calling out racist white women stepping on the necks of Blacks to chase their own voting freedoms. As a celebrated author, she was one of the first Black women to be published in the America. Let's learn about her together.
Watch this wonderful family-friendly documentary about her life on PBS.
Excerpt from NPS...
Harper's achievements included her activities as a reformer in the abolition movement, in the women's rights movement, in the temperance movement, and in the civil rights movement. In addition, her poetry and essays are significant because she used them as vehicles to comment upon the experiences of African Americans.
Excerpt from Wikipedia...
In 1866, Harper gave a moving speech before the National Women's Rights Convention, demanding equal rights for all, including Black women. She stated:
"We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul. You tried that in the case of the Negro...You white women speak here of rights. I speak of wrongs. I, as a colored woman, have had in this country an education which has made me feel as if I were in the situation of Ishmael, my hand against every man, and every man's hand against me...While there exists this brutal element in society which tramples upon the feeble and treads down the weak, I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothings and selfishness, it is the white women of America."
This speech had repercussions throughout the woman's suffrage movement and displayed black suffragists desire for equality not just with white men, but also white women. Harper's commitment to equal rights also led her to help found the American Woman Suffrage Association and reject the racist comments of fellow suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony who did not support the Fifteenth Amendment's aim of enfranchising black men without extending the right of suffrage to women.
To see a beautiful rendition of this speech, click here.
click here for a recitation of her poem, "Learning to Read" by a young student
click here for a study of "Learning to Read "designed for grades 6th - 8th
click here for a study designed for grades 9th-12th