Wednesday, March 30, 2011

But Some of Us Are Brave: Foremothers Maria W. Stewart and Sojourner Truth

Black women have a strong activist tradition of speaking out against injustice in America, which is documented in the early decades of the 19th century. In an era that frowned on women asserting themselves in public, both Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth risked public scorn and personal safety as outspoken advocates of social equality for Black women.

Maria W. Stewart, America's
First Black Woman
Political Writer
Maria (Miller) Stewart (1803-1879) is credited with being the first African American woman to publish her political views in America. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Maria Stewart began life in domestic servitude, was widowed several years after marriage in 1826, and following a Christian conversion, felt called to be an activist promoting social equality for Black women. In fact, Maria Stewart is thought to be the first woman of any race to speak her mind on matters of equality and justice in a public forum in America, in an address titled, "Why Sit Ye Here and Die?" delivered on September 21, 1832 at Franklin Hall in Boston. Stewart was not afraid to challenge even the liberal anti-slavery sect of Bostonians to be more aggressive in agitating for Black women to have access to education and gainful employment. 

Sojourner Truth

Isabella Baumfree (1797-1883) who adopted the name Sojourner Truth in response to a Christian calling, was born in Ulster County, New York, and worked her way from field laborer to liberty. Known for her fiery public speaking, Sojourner Truth made a lasting impact with her brief but landmark speech, "Ar'n’t I a Woman," which she delivered on an outdoor platform in Ohio in June 1851. Her speech defends the dignity of Black women who were forced to perform physical labor against social attitudes that narrowly equated femininity with White womanhood.

The courageous voices of these African American foremothers blazed a trail for succeeding generations of Black women who have continued to speak out against injustice, promote sisterhood and self-empowerment, and offer words of inspiration. The pioneering impact of Maria Stewart and Sojourner Truth is exemplified in the title of a groundbreaking anthology of Black women's writing published nearly a century after their deaths: All the men are Black, All the women are White, But Some of Us Are Brave (1982).

Read more NRB notes on Black women authors and books on our catalog list catalog list of books by and about Black women.

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