For Black History Month I turn to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and her important contributions as an abolitionist, a suffragist and a feminist. I also reflect on how important feminists like Harper were largely written out of history as Dr. Kyla Schuller, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers, describes in her recent book, The Trouble With White Women.
#BlackHistoryMonth #BHM #DiversityEquityInclusion #DEI #Feminism
We’re celebrating Black History Month. And I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight an extraordinary woman, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, as a poet, author, and lecturer, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a household name in the 19th century. She was born in 1925 to free parents, and she became an orphan at age three, and was raised by her aunt and uncle. Her uncle William Watkins established his own school, the Watkins Academy for Negro Youth, which Harper attended. She wrote her first volume of poetry called Forest Leaves at age 21. At age 26, Harper began writing poetry for anti-slavery papers. Her poem Eliza Harris was published in The Liberator and in Frederick Douglass’s paper. Her poetry focused on issues of racism, feminism, and classism. In 1859, Harper published a short story in the Anglo-African magazine called The Two Offers, the first short story by an African American woman.
In 1866, Harper spoke at the national woman’s rights con invention in New York. Her famous speech entitled, We Are Bound Up Together, urged her fellow attendees to include African American women who faced the double burden of racism and sexism in their fight for suffrage. Harper spent the rest of her career working for the pursuit of equal rights, job opportunities, and education for African American women. She was co-founder of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and the director of the American Association of Colored Youth.
As part of my research, I listened to an interview with professor Kyla Schuller on The Majority Report podcast. Schuller is an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers. And in her recent book, The Trouble With White Women, Schuller brings to life the 200-year counter his history of black, indigenous, Latina, poor, queer, and trans women pushing back against white feminists, and uniting to dismantle systemic injustice. Feminist heroes, such as Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, had created an inclusive and intersectional anti-racist feminism. The reason that Schuler’s work is so important is that it shows how the feminist heroes like Harper have been largely erased from history. For instance, despite writing the quintessential first wave feminist text, History of Women’s Suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony’s feminism was actively based on beliefs that black suffrage could not take precedence over women’s, leaving Harper’s beliefs entirely out of their project.
The black community continues to face challenges for equity inclusion in 2022. So please reflect on those challenges and consider how you can become a supportive ally. Thanks for listening.