Social Histories Project Notes #2

Hi All,

I am reading for various projects, with the hope of providing more social and historical context.  Within my reading, I found a very interesting fact that seemed to be “understated” when we visited Seneca Falls, or either I missed it.  This also goes back to a conversation that I had with Eileen concerning some noted African American figures of that time.  I was surprised that I was able to find that some African American individuals of that time came in contact on their speaking tours.  I told Eileen that, in my mind, the efforts of African Americans and Whites of that time were separate.  This goes back to my earliest childhood teachings and readings; but to the life of me, I was unable to verbalize to Eileen why that was. 

In my mind, I am able to compartmentalize the figures when it is related to the abolition and equal rights movements of the 19th century.  I will agree that there was limited “membership overlaps” within both the black and white abolition and equal rights groups, but such overlap was not the norm at that time due to racial constraints and prejudices.  Most historical accounts do not seem to relate this fact, but it is true that they seem to only relate the “same” “few” “most recognized” black names.  But it is clear to me that the efforts, on both fronts, were began by African American females prior to the efforts of White females, who later joined with African American men, to push thier own agendas.

In Shirley J. Yee’s _Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism, 1828-1860_, she asserts that there were no black women in attendance at the first Women’s Rights convention in Seneca Falls (1848).  She further explains, and is back up by my other readings and breifly stated in the Bacon book, that 18th and 19th century African American women were forced to start their own Women’s Rights and Aboltionists/Aid Societies.  “By the 1850’s, the effort by many white feminists to dissociate women’s rights from antislavery was self evident.  Discouraging black women from participating with white women in the movement was not difficult, because white feminist had ignored the concerns of black women from the beginning” (139-140).  Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, “She,” and a “handful” of other African Americans were among the few who participated in predominantly white meetings.

On the abolition front:  “While white women fought for female equality in predominantly white antislavery organizations, black women abolitionists campaigned for equal rights within the context of organized black abolitionism” (151).  “Black women had been involved in organized antislavery since February 1832, when a group of “females of color” in Salem, Massachusetts formed the first women’s antislavery society in the United States, the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, just one year after the emergence of Garrison and the establishment of the New England Anti-Slavery Society as the regional parent organization” (87). The FASS of Salem preceeded other African American Female groups, established between 1833-1860, such as Juvenile Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, the Female Colored Union Society of Nantucket, the Union Anti-Slavery Society of Rochester, the Female Wesleyan Anti-Slavery Society of the Methodist Episcople Church of NYC, and the Ladies’ New York Antislavery Society of Manhatten (88).  The aims of African American females were for the push of “self-help” and the uplift of the people.  Yet, figures like Maria Stewart, the Grimke’ sisters, Mary Shadd, Frances Harper, and other African American women worked, spoke, preached, taught, and provided aid through black organizations.

 All of this information make me say, “Hmmmm . . .”  The display of the life-size figures at the Women’s Rights Museum makes sense to me now.  As I said before, I was bothered by the “ommissions” of African American figures, males and females, that were not on display that I hold to be important to both 19th century movements.


7 Responses to Social Histories Project Notes #2

  1. legries says:

    Reva. Sounds like you are really onto something very important here–a piece of history that needs to be recovered. As one of your readers, I can’t wait to read your first draft to discover what you have “discovered.” I put quotations around the word “discover” to point to the tension that is inherent in recovery work. I have been thinking a lot about the role scholars play in constructing history and how much like Columbus, we set sail to “discover” new worlds. I hope we can all be cautious of the colonizing tendencies that any archiveology (archive + archealogy) project entails even when we enter into territory our race and ethnicity gives us permission to trespass….

  2. zstuckey says:

    hey R. i’m shocked there’s so much omission–then i say to myself: why am i so shocked? a related point, i think is that i am finding so much liberatory AND exploitative stuff that happens simultaneously. really good recovery work. will you use narrative about your experience at Seneca Falls or the Tubman house?

  3. Hey Reva – This entry really reminds me of the opening paragraph of Susan Well’s article about archiving… the title slips from me… in that an encounter with a phenomenon becomes exigency to dig into a discourse archive to attempt to understand a phenomenon. How does this reading contextualize your experience at the Rights Park now?

  4. Eileen Schell says:

    Reva: This is a productive trajectory to investigate. You point to an abiding problem in the woman suffrage question–it was a movement that largely ignored African American women and African American developed their own organizations for uplift and social action. There were also splits between the two major white suffrage organizations over African American men having the right to elective franchise. There is overt racism and classism in quite a bit of the suffrage discourse of the time. It’s important to study the places where African American women engaged in social action and uplift. ONe question I have is about the tensions between African American women around class– middle class black women and working class black women. How were class tensions handled in the black community? In other words, how did women like Tubman and Truth get received by black middle class women?

  5. L. says:

    Hi Reva. I want to take time to clarify my comment just a bit since it appears so problematic and to make sure that I actually get out in words what I was trying to articulate so that maybe we can discuss this issue more. Carl Beam, the First Nations artist I have been researching, speaks a lot about how the Enlightenment perspective and “western” civilization’s obsession with measuring, archiving, “discovering,” “progress,” etc. is largely responsible for the ommission of Native Americans from master narratives as well as oppression and hegemony etc. This point has really got me thinking of how scholarly work, as we discussed in class tonight in terms of taxonomizing, especially history is wrapped up in the largely imperial project. I think when I posted my earlier blog, I was trying to raise the point that all of us need to be aware of how we contribute to this “imperial project” even when we are trying to disrupt it. I had just been looking at Beam’s exhibit called the Columbus project, which is where that whole reference came from. At any rate, I guess my comment had little to actually do with your particular project and more with me just thoughtlessly kind of rambling on about the whole political tension around archives in general. What I keep harping on these days after listening to Malea Powell’s arguments about the imperialist nature of scholarship is how we all seem to be culprits in this project, whether we want to be or not, just by being part of the academy. Me posting that earlier comment is me trying to work through this dilemma. I am sorry if it came out inappropriate. Do you think I am just thinking through this too much?? Some times I think too much….or not enough….and get myself in trouble, obviously…

  6. revasias says:

    Thanks L. Point taken. As we say in the African American Community, “I will charge that to your head and not your heart.”

    But I must say, I don’t have a problem with measuring, archiving, discovering, how progress is measured, and/or the like, with the understanding that we are looking through lens across time. For me, it’s like the difference between expository writing and writing fiction. As scholars, if we approach an artifact, a group of people, or an historical figure, I want a clear understand of what I’m looking at. If that group, at that any given moment in time, had the “wherewithal” to make change happen, negatively and/or positively, I want the record to reflect that. Whether good or bad, I want to have the most “accurate” snapshot of that “development” of human relations, representations, accomplishments, genocides, or whatever the case may be. It is for this reason, I believe that archiving is most beneficial and is closer to expository writing. We are able to reflect upon the importance of historical, social, political, cultural, and individual motivations, accomplishments, and failures, which is, in my opinion, “measuring.” But what we most often have now is “fiction”–the omission of people and moments where one side wants to reflect only the positive side of an event.

    As a “Social Histories of Rhetoric” fanatic, I could care less if others may question my role or motivations within the “imperial project.” Personally it comes down to: Did I handle the data/artifact correctly? Will my scholarship bare-truth from independent scrutiny of the historical records? Did I add a voice that was left out of the conversation? For this, I must take a stand. If that causes my scholarship to take on an “imperialist nature,” so be it. If it had been done “right” in the first place, there would be no need for the type of work that I am attempting. But like I said, I see your point.

    We all need a coffee break. I would suggest that the next time Social Histories is taken up as a course there sure be a “moment,” “meeting,” or “debriefing” session. We need an relaxed environment, away from projects, readings, and deadlines, to discuss the importance, our revelations, and future directions of this type of work.

  7. legries says:

    R. I appreciate your patience with my good hearted but struggling minded self….I have been going through growing pains this weekend. I get really down on myself when I piss off or hurt others or just say things before I am ready to articulate them and before I have had the chance to really think them through. Lesson learned. AT ANY RATE, it will be very interesting for you to read my essay because the entire essay is about anti-imperialist scholarship, deconstructing Enlightenment, linear thinking, etc. It will very productive for me to receive your feedback, knowing your position on academic “measuring” practices. I think your point about all that we have now is fiction is true and one that I am working to disrupt in my own work. My essay, more than anything, so far is an attempt to carve out a space for me to speak about the work of someone from another culture. It has been an eye opening experience, and one that as I said earlier, has caused me to feel growing pains on top of everything else (stupid blog comments, being labeled a multiculturalist, working too much, not drinking enough coffee, etc). I think of this whole academic as breaking my soul open….This might sound awful, and so strange, and I think I said it earlier in the semester, but I am really realizing that I am not a good listener. (I can see you and others laughing now because I know I just talk, talk, talk, in class…) I mean I listen, but I am not sure I really listen….I am trying to become a better listener but old habits are hard to break and it is going to take a while until I can just shut up and really listen….Anyway…. see you on Monday. Hope your draft is coming along nicely…I look forward to reading it. L.

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