MARIA STEWART (1803-1879)
Maria Stewart, a free-born African American woman, was the first American-born woman of any color to deliver a series of public lectures. Fired by political and religious zeal, Stewart began lecturing and writing pamphlets in 1831. She felt driven to better the lives of her fellow African Americans, and lectured on a whole range of topics of vital importance to the black community, including abolition, equal rights, colonization, educational opportunities, and racial pride and unity. She advocated black self-determination and independence from whites. In this sense she was one of the most radical spokespersons of her time.
Her career as a public speaker was cut short, however. There was strong opposition to women lecturing in public, even from some members of the black community. Stewart weathered the criticism valiantly for about a year, but then decided to cease lecturing. Instead, she launched a long and distinguished career as an educator. Stewart taught in New York and eventually opened two schools for free African American children in Washington, D.C. (source: PBS)
The African Meeting House, the oldest remaining black church structure in the United States.
Most of our color have been taught to stand in fear of the white man, from their earliest infancy, to work as soon as they could walk, and call "master," before they scarce could lisp the name of mother . Continual fear and laborious servitude have in some degree lessened in us that natural force and energy which belong to man; or else, in defiance of opposition, our men, before this, would have nobly and boldly contended for their rights. But give the man of color an equal opportunity with the white from the cradle to manhood, and from manhood to the grave, and you would discover the dignified statesman, the man of science, and the philosopher. But there is no such opportunity for the sons of Africa, and I fear that our powerful one's are fully determined that there never shall be.
Is it possible, I exclaim, that for the want of knowledge, we have labored for hundreds of years to support others, and been content to receive what they chose to give us in return? Cast your eyes about, look as far as you can see; all, all is owned by the lordly white, except here and there a lowly dwelling which the man of color, midst deprivations, fraud and opposition, has been scarce able to procure. Like king Solomon, who put neither nail nor hammer to the temple, yet received the praise; so also have the white Americans gained themselves a name, like the names of the great men that are in the earth, while in reality we have been their principal foundation and support. We have pursued the shadow, they have obtained the substance; we have performed the labor they have received the profits; we have planted the vines, they have eaten the fruits of them.
Kerry Washington reads Maria Stewart