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.