Episode Show Notes & Transcript
After the Civil War, many abolitionists and women’s rights activists saw an opportunity to team up and advance equality for all.
African American author and orator Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was hopeful, too. But she also knew that politics and prejudice could shatter this tentative alliance, with devastating consequences. She wasn’t about to let that happen without a fight.
To help tell Frances’s story, host Laura Free meets up with Sharia Benn, a writer, researcher and theater artist who has spent a decade portraying Frances for public audiences. Laura also spends time with historian Bettye Collier-Thomas in Bettye’s extensive personal archive. Bettye’s research has helped recover Harper’s forgotten contributions to the abolitionist, suffrage, and temperance causes. In this exceptionally emotional episode, Sharia and Bettye paint a vivid portrait of a woman whose vision of liberation resonates deeply today—and whose spirit is still with those who continue the pursuit of justice and equality.
Laura: Imagine with me that it’s the morning of May 10, 1866. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, a renowned poet and abolitionist, is making her way down Broadway toward 15th Street in Manhattan. She’s a forty-year-old Black woman, wearing her version of a power suit, a custom-made dress of Union army blue. Up ahead is a large gothic church where this year’s women’s rights convention is about to take place. It’s the first of these meetings to be held since the Civil War ended a little over a year ago, so the stakes are high. The country is at a crossroads, and Frances, one of the convention’s featured speakers, is too.
Six months ago the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery. Frances has spent most of her adult life fighting for exactly this. And a lot of the people at this convention have too. Abolitionists and women’s rights activists have always worked together. But so much has changed with the end of the Civil War. Can these activists remain allies going forward? Can they agree on what comes next?
[Church background noise, Footsteps]
Into this moment steps Frances, who is determined to see equality for all become a reality.
Frances takes her place on the platform with the other speakers. Together, they are some of America’s most well-known activists.
As the meeting gets underway, maybe Frances is imagining a future in which her four-year-old daughter, Mary, is never denied her rights because of her race or her sex. But to pave the way for that vision, Frances knows that when it’s her turn to speak, she has to say some things the white women beside her may not want to hear.
Laura: You’re listening to Amended, a podcast from Humanities New York. I’m Laura Free. Groundbreaking historians are taking us from the 1800’s to the present day, looking at the struggle for women’s voting rights through the stories of women who fought for full equality, without exclusions based on race, citizenship status, and class. We’re talking about what’s been gained, what’s been lost, and what’s still left to be done. If you’re listening to Amended for the first time, please go back and listen to Episodes 1 and 2 first. The series is meant to be heard in order.
Laura: Last time on Amended, Dr. Martha Jones told us how enslaved women in the 19th century put sexual violence on the table as a women’s issue. This time, slavery has ended, but the fight against the oppressive intersection of racism and sexism continues. What Frances Harper is about to say at the 1866 convention will be our window into this story, but first let’s meet the person who’s our window into Frances Harper…
Sharia Benn: This is where I read and write. And this is where Frances and I do our most work.
Laura: Your office is way tidier than mine.
Laura: I sat down with Sharia Benn back in February in her home office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Sharia is an actor, playwright, and researcher. She’s spent the last decade studying Frances and portraying her at public events as a living history educator. She also wrote a play about Frances and performed it with her theater company, Sankofa. Sharia identifies deeply with Frances’s writing, her religious faith, and her politics.
Sharia: It sounds really crazy and weird, but I do commune with Frances. It’s through her words. It’s through the writings. When I perform, or getting ready for a performance, I seek her out because there are things that aren’t in the words. They’re between the lines, they’re emotions. I’m like “Okay, Frances. What do you want the people to know?”
Laura: When I asked Sharia which piece of Frances’s writing meant the most to her, she chose an antislavery poem called “Bury Me In A Free Land.”
Sharia: “Bury me in a Free Land” is by far my favorite and it begs the question in contemporary time, would America qualify? “Make me a grave wherever you will in a lowly plane or a lofty Hill. Make it among earth’s humblest graves, but not in a land where men are slaves. . .”
Laura: Frances published “Bury Me” in the early 1850’s. In it she describes, in vivid detail, how haunted she is by the suffering of enslaved people. Especially women.
Sharia:”…And the mother’s shriek of wild despair rise like a curse on the trembling air. I could not sleep if I saw the lash drinking her blood at each fearful gash, and I saw her babes. Torn from her breast, like trembling doves from their parent nest. . .”
Laura: Frances has witnessed the terrors of enslavement up close. She was born in 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland, where slavery was legal. But Frances’s parents were part of Baltimore’s large free Black community, so Frances was born free. Sharia was also born in Baltimore. Just one more thread tying her to Frances.
Sharia: “…I ask no monument, proud and high to arrest the gaze of the passers by. All that my yearning spirit craves is bury me not in a land of slaves.”
Laura: Thank you.
Sharia: Frances continually referenced that throughout her life and her poetry. You’re giving birth to a human being that is going to be taken from you. I still feel it, it’s still relevant because I am a mother and every time my son goes into this world I’m afraid for him. I don’t know whether he’s going to return to me. I have connected with what that feels like.[Music]
Laura: Even though we’re looking at a poem Frances wrote back in the 1850’s, it’s clear how deeply her words still resonate with the present moment. And they also show us how far the country has to go to achieve full equality for all Americans. Frances did not have her own children when she wrote “Bury Me,” but she was deeply familiar with the pain of family separation because she was orphaned around the age of three. Fortunately, Frances was adopted by a loving aunt and uncle, Henrietta and William Watkins. William was an abolitionist minister, and the founder of a school for free Black children. So Frances was a student there until she finished her education at age thirteen. Frances then got a job as a domestic worker for a white family. Frances had a passion for reading and an exceptional talent for writing, and because this family owned a bookshop, she jumped at the opportunity to feed her writer’s soul. By the age of twenty, Frances published her first book of poetry, Forest Leaves, that dealt with themes of mortality, Christianity, and slavery. It was the start of her long and prolific career as an author.
A few years later, Frances went to work teaching homemaking skills, first in Ohio, then in Pennsylvania. Frances was a good teacher, but she could not forget the brutality of slavery that she had witnessed growing up. Then in 1853, her home state of Maryland passed a law that said any Black person who entered the state could legally be captured and enslaved. This pushed Frances to become a full time antislavery activist. She moved to Philadelphia, to a house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. There, she helped self-emancipated people who were making their way to Canada. She kept writing and publishing, and she donated much of her earnings to support the Underground Railroad. She also threw her talent into lecturing. Before long she was being invited all over the North to spread her antislavery message, and she didn’t stop until slavery was abolished.
Laura: This is the life experience that Frances brings with her to that women’s rights meeting in 1866. As she waits for her time at the podium, she listens closely to the other speakers. All of whom are white. She hears women’s rights activists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and radical minister Henry Ward Beecher, all express a lot of excitement for universal equality. She watches as convention organizers propose a resolution to advocate for “no abridgement of suffrage on account of color or sex.” and then it’s Frances’s turn. Like all the best public speakers, Frances begins with a deeply personal story from her recent experience. In 1860 she had married Fenton Harper, a widower with three very young children. Frances put her life savings towards buying a farm in Ohio for them to work together. In 1862 France gave birth to Mary, but then tragedy struck. Here’s Sharia reading what Frances said.
Sharia: “About two years ago. . .a great sorrow had fallen upon my life. . .”
Laura: in 1864 Fenton died and left behind steep financial debts, which a group of men soon came to collect.
Sharia: “I tried to keep my children together, but my husband died in debt. And before he had been in his grave three months, the administrator had swept the very milk crocks and wash tubs from my hands. Had I died instead of my husband, how different would have been the result. . .I say then that justice is not fulfilled so long as a woman is unequal before the law.”
Laura: Frances held onto Mary, but her three small step-children were taken from her. Frances wants her audience to know that because she’s a woman, unjust laws have deprived her of her nearly everything she holds dear. But she’s not the only one being harmed.
Sharia: “. . .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. . .”[Music]
Laura: This part of the speech is often taken as an expression of unity, and it is. But there’s more to it. Those who inflict harm, or allow it to happen to others, harm themselves as well. The country cannot oppress one group of people without damaging the whole society. It’s a powerful critique. And Frances is just getting started. After this short break, we’ll hear why she has a bone to pick with white women in particular.[Music]
Laura: Welcome back. Frances has just told the women’s rights convention that “we’re all bound up together” in the fight for equality. And I’m sure every head in the room is nodding emphatically. But are they really with her? Given what’s being debated on capitol hill at that moment, she just can’t be sure. I’ve spent the last twenty years researching and writing about those debates. And how they threw the women’s rights movement into chaos. So before Frances continues, let me explain what’s happening in Washington, while Frances is at this meeting in New York.[Music end]
Laura: So politicians in Washington are trying to put the broken nation back together in the wake of the Civil War. And the first thing they have to decide is: Who gets to have a voice in America’s future? Until this point the vast majority of people with a political voice—a vote—look just like the people in government. They’re white and they’re men. But now the government has a problem, and here’s what they’re thinking. They can’t use just whiteness and manhood to define voters anymore. Because a huge group of white men, former Confederates, just tried to destroy the nation. Black Union soldiers are loyal, and men, but they’re not white. Formerly enslaved men? Also men! Also not white. And then there’s women. Some are white, but none are men. So if whiteness and manhood don’t automatically make someone a voter, then what does? The parties have really different answers to this question. At this point in history, the Democrats are committed to excluding anyone from voting who is not white. But Republicans have the majority in Congress, and although not all of them are ready to expand voting rights nationwide, they decide that, for now, they will make just Southern Black men voters. This will help Black Americans in the South protect their communities. It will also help keep Confederates from gaining control of Southern states or of the nation.[Music]
Laura: But in order to expand the vote, Congress has to undo some of the laws that were put in place to protect slavery. So they start to draft the 14th Amendment. The first thing republicans have to tackle is the infamous supreme court decision, Dred Scott v. Sanford. It said in 1857 that Black Americans were not citizens. So the first section of the 14th Amendment deals with that by declaring that all people born in the U.S. are citizens and entitled to the same civil rights. But that alone isn’t enough, because being a citizen does not necessarily mean that you can vote. Voting has always been controlled by the state governments, and Congress isn’t ready to change that, so Republicans will try to give Black men the vote indirectly. They add a section to the amendment saying that each state has to allow all adult male citizens to vote if they want their whole populations to count toward representation in the house. It essentially says to the southern states: No Black voters? No national political power. This is a step towards expanding voting access, but it’s a small one. It may encourage Black men’s voting rights, but does not guarantee them.[Music]
Laura: And here’s the other thing: It explicitly prohibits women from voting. The language used to write the 14th Amendment calls voters “male” three different times. Until this point the Constitution has always referred to “the people” without reference to sex. So the ultimate answer, then, to who should vote? It turns out to be men. Only men.[Music end]
Laura: Let’s get back to the women’s rights meeting that’s happening during all of this. The activists at the meeting all know that the Fourteenth Amendment is being debated. So here’s Frances at this moment. Hopeful, but aware of the party politics. She sees the door cracking open for Black men to vote. And at the same time swinging closed on women’s hope for suffrage. Frances herself wants to vote, but Black Americans are still being deprived of basic human rights. And she wants to make sure white activists understand that too. That’s why she has a warning for the audience. Here’s Sharia reading the transcript of what Frances said.
Sharia: “I do not believe that giving the woman the ballot is immediately going to cure all the ills of life. I do not believe that white women are dewdrops just exhaled from the skies. . .The good would vote according to their convictions and principles; the bad, as dictated by prejudice or malice; and the indifferent will vote on the strongest side of the question, winning the party.”
Laura: In 19th-century America, popular culture says that white women are more virtuous than men, but Frances is calling B.S. She knows that, as voters, some white women will choose to advance equality, but others will vote against it. Getting the vote alone is not a magic bullet.
Sharia: “…You white women speak here of rights I speak of wrongs…Let me go tomorrow morning and take my seat in one of your street cars. . .The conductor will put up his hand and stop the car rather than let me ride.”
Laura: In the America I live in, Frances is saying, I can’t even get around town without experiencing overt racism. How’s voting going to fix that?
Sharia: “. . .Going from Washington to Baltimore this spring, they put me in the smoking car. They did it once, but the next time they tried it, they failed for, I would not go in. I felt the fight in me, but I don’t want to have to fight all the time. . .Have women nothing to do with this?”
Laura: That smoking car wasn’t just uncomfortable, it was dangerous. A male space where Black women had to fear for their safety. But how many times had the white women in this room seen something like this happen and said nothing, done nothing? And, Frances is saying, isn’t this a women’s rights issue? They didn’t have the term structural racism back then, but that’s what Frances is describing and she’s telling the convention that they have a part to play in ending it. As Sharia made her way through the speech, she paused to tell me how true Frances’s words feel for her today.
Sharia: I read her stuff and I’m like, wow. It’s still relevant, and we’re still fighting the same fights.
Laura: The part for me in this passage that just is so painful is where she says, “I don’t want to have to fight all the time.”
Sharia: Oh my goodness. That’s a Black woman’s anthem. Like, every day that’s what I live. I just am tired of fighting all the time, so I get that.[Music]
Laura: Frances isn’t just reminding her listeners that racism is a problem in America. She wants them to help her fight it. As a powerful alliance, the people in this room can work together for a vision of true equality that doesn’t leave anyone behind. To do that, though, white women are going to have to check their privilege. Here’s Sharia, with the last line of Frances’s speech.
Sharia: “. . .Talk of giving women the ballot-box?. . .I tell you that if there is any class of people who need to be lifted out of their airy nothingness and selfishness it is the white women of America.”
Laura: With that, Frances leaves the podium. Now it’s time to watch and wait. Are white women activists willing to fight racism? Or is their movement about nothing more than their own advancement? The initial signs seem hopeful. As the meeting closes, antislavery and women’s rights activists decide to form one unified organization. They call it the American Equal Rights Association, and its mission is defined as achieving “universal suffrage” for all people. At first glance, that mission may sound like it covers everything and everyone, but we’re about to learn exactly how limited it really is.
Laura: This has gotta be the largest personal archive I have ever seen.
Bettye Collier-Thomas: It is, and it’s the largest one on Black women, too.
Bettye: Come on guys, you got Bettye talk going.
Laura: I do, I’m loving it.
Laura: I’m sure you remember Dr. Bettye Collier-Thomas from Episode One. She’s going to help us with the rest of this story. Bettye’s been compiling her archive on Black women in politics since the 1970’s. Lately she’s using it to work on her new book, In Politics to Stay, all about Black women’s central role in American political life.
Laura: Wait, Bettye, you have your own card catalog?
Bettye: Yeah. Look in those drawers.
Laura: All right, I’m going to open this one. Wow!
Bettye: Where you have the note cards. Oh look who we pulled out.
Laura: And there’s Frances Harper.
Bettye: Yeah, and look, some of those things have dried up, but this is Frances Harper. And there are my notes on that.
Laura: It was early in Bettye’s career when she first saw the name Frances Harper in a 19th-century newspaper. She did some digging and soon realized she’d found a forgotten giant of Black women’s suffrage.
Bettye: She was the best known Black woman of that time. And she supported herself through her speaking and her writing. Very few women were able to do that. She got as many speaking engagements as Douglass. They didn’t pay her as much as men, but she earned enough to support herself.
Laura: By the late 1860’s, Frances is also going to the South to work with newly emancipated people. She’s part of a larger movement of Black women activists, who are working hard in these post-war decades. Over the next half-century, they’re going to build an organized network nationwide to help Black communities thrive. They’re also fighting for economic and political power, and that includes suffrage.
Bettye: People don’t say much about the debates among Black women with universal suffrage, but they were discussing it in their communities and nationally as much as white women. But these women knew that the only way they were going to change the lives of their people and change their lives was for them to gain power so that people in power would listen to you, and you needed to vote to do that. As Harper said, I want women to possess power, as well as influence. You can walk around just talking about, “Oh, she’s influential.” Does she have any power?
Laura: At the same time, white Southerners start a campaign of brutal violence and terrorism paired with racist laws to block the advances Black Americans are making. Bettye saw the evidence of that process as a young graduate student in Atlanta in the early 1960’s. A professor sent her to the courthouse — a segregated building — to read some dusty city records.
Bettye: He wanted to see the patterns of race that develop in quote unquote freedom. Now you had Jim Crow at that time, at the courthouse and everywhere. They set up a table out in the lobby and all the white folk would come and look at me.
Laura: And you’re sitting there in the hallway in the courthouse?
Bettye: I was sitting in this open hallway and they would bring one book up, and as I finished this one, they’d bring another. If you’ve used 19th-century records, you’ve got to deal with — learn how to read the handwriting, and in those old books, record books, they were kind of felt, I guess. It almost looked like the clay of Georgia. And I went page by page. Oh, I learned so much. And I saw them define every aspect of what Jim Crow segregation was going to be. That’s when they established the vagrancy laws. That meant if they found you sitting on a bench down in the so-called downtown, the shopping area, after dark, they arrested you and they put you on the chain gang and sold your labor, which is — they have reinvented in some ways in places like Alabama now, and some other places. So “freedom” and freedom. So-called freedom, you see?
Laura: That hallway was the only place Bettye was allowed to sit in that segregated public building. She was not just researching segregation, she was living it. The documents she was reading laid out before her eyes how one hundred years earlier, Southerners started trying to use state laws to recreate the constraints of slavery, without technically enslaving anyone. It was essentially the first attempt to implement what would ultimately become legal segregation. Republicans in Congress see this happening and realize Their 14th Amendment is not enough to protect Black Americans’ freedom. As a temporary solution, they send the Union Army and a government organization, called the Freedman’s Bureau, to monitor the elections in Southern states, and help secure Black men’s access to the ballot. This results in a historic moment where, for the first time in the South, Black men vote in large numbers and get elected to public office, even to Congress. Then, to make those changes permanent, Congress drafts a 15th Amendment. It prohibits voter discrimination based on race nationwide. But rather than seeing the new 15th Amendment as a step toward equality for all — a win for their long-time allies — some white women’s rights activists start to panic. The 14th Amendment had defined voters as “male.” and because the 15th Amendment does not mention sex at all, it let’s the exclusion of women stand. These white activists feel like they’re losing their once-in-a-lifetime chance to gain the vote. They see Black men’s gain as a personal loss.
Bettye: While some white suffragists had been associated with the abolitionist movement, it did not mean they believed in equality with those who had been enslaved. The woman suffrage movement was split over the issue. Some white suffragists such as Lucy Stone supported Black male suffrage, most opposed it. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were in the forefront of the opposition arguing that white women were more deserving of the franchise than Black men.
Laura: Remember back in episode one when I was in high school and found Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s racist writings? Well, we just got to that moment in our story. Faced with the reality that Black men will be enfranchised before white women, Stanton and Anthony start to argue that white women would be better and safer voters than Black men. Essentially because of their whiteness.
Bettye: It was the position of Stanton and Anthony in particular, when you began to talk about educated suffrage and that, you know, “Why should these, these uncouth uneducated Black men who were brutes so forth and so on. Why should they get the vote before we do?” And of course they meant before white women do.
Laura: Stanton writes some horrifically racist things, even suggesting that white women would be sexually endangered by Black male voters in the South. It’s one of the ugliest moments in early women’s rights history. And why do they even think racist arguments will help them? Well remember how Democrats are committed to keeping politics under white control? At the time, a few in the party have started saying they want to see white women vote instead of Black men. Stanton and Anthony see these Democrats as new potential allies. Maybe together they can pass a 16th Amendment giving voting rights to women. They even try to bring these racist arguments to the American Equal Rights Association, but at the annual meeting in 1869 Frances Harper, Frederick Douglass and many others push back. Here’s Sharia reading what Frederick Douglass said.
Sharia: Okay, “Douglass confronted Stanton, he said, ‘With us, the matter is a question of life and death. . .When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans, when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lampposts. When their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed upon the pavement…when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads, when their children are not allowed to enter schools, then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”
Laura: And those dot dot dots right there? That’s where Anthony says, “Well, what about Black women?” And he says “Yes, yes…”
Sharia: “Yes yes yes. It is true of a Black woman, but not because she is a woman, but because she is Black.”
Laura: Douglass here is explaining why any steps that can be taken to save the lives of Black Americans should be the most urgent priority of anyone who claims their cause is true equality. But Stanton and Anthony don’t seem to hear this, and even try to convince the Black women in the room to side with them, arguing that Black women would suffer if Black men got voting rights before they did.
Sharia: It says, “Ms. Anthony said she protested against the 15th Amendment because it wasn’t equal right. It put two million more men in position of tyrants over two million women who had until now been the equals of the men at their side.”
Laura: You’re shaking your head.
Sharia: It’s just, being taught that Susan B. Anthony was and should be a hero because she’s a woman and I’m a woman and she was for me. She wasn’t. It wasn’t that they even ignored, it felt to me they were intentionally excluding Black women, but we could be pawns. And what I love about Frances is she called white women out on it. It says, “Mrs. Harper then proceeded with her remarks saying that when it was a question of race, she let the lesser question of sex go, but the white women all go for sex, letting race occupy a minor position. If the nation could only handle one question. She would not have the Black woman put a single straw in the way if only the race of men could obtain what they wanted.” And it’s recorded there was great applause after that.
Laura: It’s an incredibly tense moment, but Frances holds her ground. Here’s Bettye again.
Bettye: She joins Douglass, Harper does and, and she doesn’t equivocate on that. And she spoke truth to power. You cannot separate Black women from Black men here because they also are not going to get equal treatment if white women get the vote. And what she realized: white Americans did not see Black women as women. Women meant white women and Black women were just Black, there with Black men, lumped together.[Music]
Laura: The moral conflict between those claiming white privilege and those fighting for racial equality is irreconcilable, and the American Equal Rights Association falls apart. From here, Black activists face a difficult choice. Some decide that it’s a better strategy to remain allies with Stanton and Anthony, in spite of everything, as they go on to fight for a new federal amendment to enfranchise women. Frances Harper and Frederick Douglass join the white suffragist Lucy Stone in forming the American Woman Suffrage Association. They support the 15th Amendment, and once it’s ratified, they work state-by-state for women’s votes. But white-led suffrage organizations definitely aren’t the only option. By the late 1860’s, there’s a long-standing and robust network of Black social and political organizations. In these groups Black women work to address the issues that are central to their lives.
Bettye: Cause if you ask the question what did Black women want, they wanted everything that white men, white women, and Black men had that they didn’t have. They wanted full equality. And they spoke very forcefully about that. I don’t know anybody today who’ll speak any more forcefully than those women. They are not quiet. They are not women who need to be taught or lectured by white women. Black women were out there debating all the issues of the time, Black women you have yet to know.
Laura: Black women’s equality work will continue and expand through the end of the 19th century and beyond. Even as the work becomes harder and more dangerous, as white Americans enforce segregation with unprecedented levels of violence. Nevertheless, Black women continue to work, organize, and lead. They establish a tradition of activism that will feed into the Civil Rights Movement and into today’s movements for social justice. Frances spends the rest of her life working for full equality; including taking on leadership roles in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the National Association of Colored Women. She works with Ida B. Wells to fight lynching. And continues to publish poems, essays, and popular novels that center Black women’s politics.
Bettye: This was a woman who really dedicated herself to, in the terminology of this time, liberating her people. Liberating them not just in terms of bodies, and not just male and female. But she cleared off a place just for Black women. Liberating them from the myths, the views, everything that others thought about them, and helping them to understand really who they were and the actual power that they did possess.
Laura: Frances outlives many of the other suffragists in this story. But when she dies in 1911, at age 86, this woman who called out the racism of the white suffrage movement is written almost entirely out of the history.
Bettye: She was almost forgotten. She didn’t get her due, and I didn’t see widespread obituaries praising her. She didn’t get her due. They didn’t know her name. She was nowhere.
Laura: These days Frances is getting more recognition. Thanks to scholars and researchers like Bettye and Sharia. And every time Sharia steps into her role as Frances on stage, more people get a chance to honor Frances’s legacy.
Laura: Tell me what happens on stage. Like how does the story begin?
Sharia: The play opens in total darkness. And you hear “Hush. Hush. Huuush. . .” [singing] Somebody’s calling my name.” The lights come up. One spot of light in this darkness that Francis is walking into. [singing: “Somebody’s calling my name. Huuush”] She is recalling being silenced and being hushed. And in history, being silenced. And knowing she’s been called. [Singing: What shall I do? Hush.]
Laura: And like Frances herself, when Sharia’s in front of the audience, she always leaves them with a challenge.
Sharia: It ends with Frances saying, you know, they laid this, this body, this earthly temple to rest in 1911. But basically my spirit and my work is still here. So no, it’s not a free land. And yes there’s still slavery. ‘Cause it’s not resolved. And I’m saying you’ve got information. What are you going to do with it?
Laura: America has stuff to work out.
Sharia: We do. We do. So much work to do. That’s how I’m feeling. And everybody can do something.
Laura: I’m so grateful to you. Thank you.
Sharia Benn: Thank you.
Laura: Thank you for listening to the first half of our season. We have three more episodes coming this fall. We’ll talk about the political activism of immigrant women and indigenous women after the turn of the 19th century, and bring you stories from more recent voting rights history. In the meantime, keep an eye on the Amended feed. I’ll be introducing you to episodes of some other podcasts we love. They’ll provide important background and context that expands on what Amended covers.[Music]
Visit the Sankofa African American Theatre Company website to learn more about Sharia Benn’s work.
Don’t miss these great books by host Laura Free, guest Bettye Collier-Thomas, and other scholars whose research informed this episode:
African American Women and the Vote, co-edited by Bettye-Collier Thomas
In Politics to Stay’: A Political History of African American Women by Bettye-Collier Thomas (Forthcoming from Beacon in 2021)
Jesus, Jobs, and Justice by Bettye Collier-Thomas
Sisters in the Struggle: African American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin
The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha
Still craving more?
Check out these HNY reading lists: “Amended, Suffrage, and Beyond,” “Suffrage and Beyond: 19 Books for Women’s History Month” and the “Votes for Women” collection, which includes more great reads on women’s struggle for the vote.
Amended Episode 3 “Of Rights and Wrongs”
Production Company: Humanities New York
Laura Free, Host & Writer
Reva Goldberg, Producer, Editor & Co-Writer
Scarlett Rebman, Project Director
Kordell K. Hammond
Consulting Engineer: Logan Romjue
Art by Simonair Yoho
Sound effects this episode courtesy of freesound.org
Thanks to this episode’s guests and collaborators, Sharia Benn and Bettye Collier-Thomas. Special thanks to Alison Parker and Manisha Sinha, whose scholarship we relied on to help tell the story of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.
Amended is produced with major funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and with support from Baird Foundation, Susan Strauss, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Phil Lewis & Catherine Porter, and C. Evan Stewart.
Copyright Humanities New York 2020