Maria Stewart: Crash Course Black American History #14

Maria Stewart: Crash Course Black American History #14

Hi! I’m Clint Smith and this is Crash CoursenBlack American History. So I have a daughter who is two years old. She is smart, and funny, and kind, and verynvery opinionated. Even with the limited language of a toddler,nshe is not at all afraid to make sure you know how she feels about something at anyntime–whether it’s how many crackers she wants in her bowl during snack time or whichnbook she wants to read before bed. She speaks her mind, regardless of the subjectnmatter. And this is something that my wife and I–it’snsomething we want to encourage. For too long, in our country’s (and in ournworld’s) history, women have been told they should stay silent, keep their opinions tonthemselves, leave it to men to solve the problems and to have the ideas. That’s ridiculous. We want our daughter to know her voice matters,nand that as a young Black girl, she comes from a long tradition of Black women who havenrefused to be silenced, and who have made it their mission to speak up. Today we’re going to learn about a 19thncentury Black woman who made a huge impact by using her voice. Even when everything and everyone around herntold her to stay silent: her government, her religious community, her society. Her name is Maria Stewart – she was a writer,norator, and thinker who wasn’t afraid to let people know what she thought. A woman who laid the groundwork for many generationsnof women, and men, who would come after her. Let’s start the show! INTROnMaria Stewart was born Maria Miller, as a free person, in Hartford, Connecticut in 1803nto two African born parents. But by the time she turned five, she was annorphan. Maria was then “bound out as an indenturednservant” to a local clergyman’s family until she was fifteen years old. Eventually, Maria moved to Boston, Massachusettsnand married a businessman named James W. Stewart. James was much older than Maria, and priornto meeting her, he had spent quite a bit of time serving on various ships during the Warnof 1812. They settled in the Beacon Hill neighborhoodnof Boston and were members of the Black middle class community there. In many ways, this was a thriving Black community,nbut the people there weren’t content to simply do well for themselves, they wantednto advocate for their people. They didn’t want to be exceptional, theynthought that every Black person, North and South, should be free. David Walker was a Black activist and philosophicalnleader who lived near Maria and her husband, and he used his platform to fight againstnslavery in the United States. One of his most important contributions tonAfrican-American history was a pamphlet, which went by the title. “Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Togethernwith a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and VerynExpressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts,nSeptember 28, 1829”. Yea, that whole thing is the title. This was an era when gigantic titles werensuper trendy. And while the title may have been trendy,nthe content was pretty scathing, arguing that Black Americans were:n“the most wretched, degraded and abject set of beings that [ever] lived since thenworld began, down to the present day, and, that, the white Christians of America, whonhold us in slavery, (or, more properly speaking, pretenders to Christianity,) treat us morencruel and barbarous than any Heathen nation did any people whom it had subjected…“ As the famous philosopher Biggie Smalls said:n“If you don’t know, now you know” Walker’s work was important to the anti-slaverynmovement because he specifically called out White Christians, as a Christian himself,nfor being complicit in supporting slavery and its brutality. Walker was a really important intellectualnmentor of Maria Stewart and used the bit of privilege he had as a Black man to publicizenher thoughts on religion and the anti-slavery movement. Unfortunately, Maria would be in for somenreally difficult years ahead. Her husband James passed away on Decembern17, 1829 – only three years after they were married. And though James had provided money for Marianin his will, she was denied access to that inheritance by the white executors of thatnwill. And as a result, she was forced back intondomestic labor for some time. The following year, she lost her dear friendnand mentor David Walker. Though it’s unclear how, some believe thatnhe was poisoned because of his revolutionary and abolitionist ideas. With the tragic and sudden losses of two mennwho were so central to her life, Maria deepened her religious commitment in an effort to getnher get through this tumultuous period. Though Maria was grieving the losses of hernhusband and her friend, and was forced back into a position of servitude, her thoughtsnon freedom and liberty for Black people further radicalized during that time. She also started to gain more recognitionnfor her own ideas. Newspaper editors such as William Lloyd Garrison,nbecame increasingly interested in the ideas of women abolitionists. Garrison was one of the most famous abolitionistsnof the day, and recognizing Maria’s talent and depth, he began promoting her ideas tona wider audience. In 1831, Maria published an influential pamphletncalled Religion and The Pure Principles of Morality, The Sure Foundation on Which WenMust Build, which at the time was actually a pretty concise title. According to scholar Jane Duran, Maria’snpamphlet was very important for three reasons. First, the work spoke to all Black women regardlessnof servitude status. She focused on engaging in a cause that wouldnlater be called “uplift,” encouraging everyone “to seek a higher ground” – whichnwas a common theme in Bostonian culture and literature. Second, she deftly employed religious ideasnto make her points. Maria highlighted that the Christian principlenof love was completely opposed to the way that Christians of the day treated enslavednand often free Black people. She also used biblical references to highlightnthe role of Ethiopia in Judeo-Christian history as a way to affirm that Black people werenequal and valuable. Third, she pushed back against one of thencontemporary justifications of slavery: that Black people deserved enslavement becausenthey lacked intelligence or potential. And she did that by listing the achievementsnof many Black individuals of African descent. She also suggested that, in her opinion, enslavednpeople were not doing enough to pursue freedom for themselves, and that, rightfully so, wasnmet with fervent criticism. As we’ve discussed in other episodes, Blacknpeople resisted slavery and excercised agency in a variety of ways. The blame should always be placed on the enslaver,nnever the enslaved. Still, Maria’s work was pivotal to the anti-slaverynmovement. And Maria was always cognizant of what allowednthe US economy to prosper, writing in the pamphlet, “it is the blood of our fathers,nand the tears of our brethren that have enriched your soils.” Let’s learn more about Maria in the ThoughtnBubble: As a result of her pamphlet’s success, Marianwas asked to give more speeches on abolition, religion, and her intellectual work. One speech was sponsored by an organizationncalled the Afric-American Female Intelligence Society of Boston. Usually at this point in US History, womennonly spoke in private. But Maria spoke to an audience of MEN andnwomen, who were both Black and White – which was mostly unheard of at that time. And I mean, it’s not like she was not herentalking about how to prepare the best 19th Century pot roast (no offense to pot roast). She was out here talking about serious issuesnlike civil rights and feminism. In her speech, Maria said, …O woman, woman! Upon you I call; for upon your exertions almostnentirely depends whether the rising generation shall be any thing more than we have beennor not O woman, woman! Your example is powerful, your influence great;nit extends over your husbands and your children, and throughout the circle of your acquaintance.” Maria fearlessly shared with her audiencenthat they could not stand by and condone slavery – especially if they claimed to be religious. She also empowered women to stand up for themselves,nand use their influence to make this country what it promised it would be, for everyone. And Maria didn’t stop there. She continued to give speeches on the abolitionistnmovement and women’s rights. She later became a teacher who taught in NewnYork City, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Thanks Thought Bubble. Maria’s story is interesting because it’sna really good example of what can happen when people in positions of power provide a platformnto those with less of it. You may have heard of the word “intersectionality.” We touch on themes of intersectionality innour previous episode on Black Women’s Labor. This term was developed by Columbia Law Schoolnprofessor Kimberlé Crenshaw and is used to describe the challenge of being a part ofnmultiple marginalized groups and how such marginalization shapes our lives in complexnways. Crenshaw’s theory, which many feminist scholars,nspecifically Black feminists, have argued for decades, highlights that some groups arenmore or less marginalized than others because of the complexity of gender and race – antheme that Maria Stewart tackled in her work way back in the 19th century. Both William Lloyd Garrison, a White man,nand David Walker, a Black man, used their positions of power as men to elevate MarianStewart’s voice. And because those men shared their platformnwith someone who had a different lived experience than them, someone whose voice at that timenwould have largely gone unheard, Maria Stewart’s voice was elevated to a place where everyonenhad to listen. It’s not to say that these men deserve goldnstars or anything for that, they don’t. They did what all of us should try to do innall of the various parts of our lives. Still, providing Maria with a platform tonshare her ideas did help her contribute to a larger societal discussion that at thatnpoint was largely being led by men. Women have always deserved a seat at the table,nit’s just been a matter of whether or not men were willing to make room. And Maria Stewart…her life is a remindernof why that’s so important. Thanks for watching, I’ll see you next time. Crash Course is made with the help of allnthese nice people and our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you’d like to keep Crash Course freenfor everybody, forever, you can support the series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platformnthat allows you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for makingnCrash Course possible with their continued support.
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Maria Stewart: Crash Course Black American History #14

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