​September 21, 1832: Maria Stewart Delivered The Lecture ‘Why Sit Ye Here And Die?’

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At Franklin Hall in Boston, Maria Stewart delivered her famous speech to the New England Anti-Slavery Society. She denounced slavery in the 1st public lecture delivered by a black woman in the United States.

Maria W. Stewart was an African-American journalist, lecturer, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. Although her career was brief it was very striking. Maria W. Stewart started off her career as a domestic servant. She later became an activist.

She was the 1st American woman to speak to a mixed audience of men and women, whites and black. She was also the 1st African- American woman to lecture about women’s rights, make a public anti-slavery speech and the 1st African-American woman to make public lectures.

SEPT. 21, 1832: At Franklin Hall in Boston, Stewart delivers Why Sit Ye Here and Die?:

“Yet, after all, methinks there are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance—no fetters so binding as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge. O, had I received the advantages of early education, my ideas would, ere now, have expanded far and wide; but, alas! I possess nothing but moral capability—no teachings but the teachings of the Holy spirit.”

Stewart continues in her lecture by demanding equal rights for African-American women:

“I have asked several individuals of my sex, who transact business for themselves, if providing our girls were to give them the most satisfactory references, they would not be willing to grant them an equal opportunity with others? Their reply has been—for their own part, they had no objection; but as it was not the custom, were they to take them into their employ, they would be in danger of losing the public patronage. And such is the powerful force of prejudice. Let our girls possess what amiable qualities of soul they may; let their characters be fair and spotless as innocence itself; let their natural taste and ingenuity be what they may; it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants. Ah! why is this cruel and unfeeling distinction? Is it merely because God has made our complexion to vary? If it be, O shame to soft, relenting humanity! “Tell it not in Gath! publish it not in the streets of Askelon!” Yet, after all, methinks were the American free people of color to turn their attention more assiduously to moral worth and intellectual improvement, this would be the result: prejudice would gradually diminish, and the whites would be compelled to say, unloose those fetters!”

LEGACY: 

?Stewart is honored together with William Lloyd Garrison with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on December 17.

?Stewart’s speech inspired the title of Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Words and Writings by Women of African Descent from the Ancient Egyptian to the Present, edited by Margaret Busby (1992).

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