Sister Outsider: Black Women as Abolitionists and Suffragists

Sister Outsider: Black Women as Abolitionists and Suffragists by Donovan Cleckley

This bulletin board for Black History month showcases Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells.

(I.) Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was an abolitionist, poet, teacher, and public speaker. Referred to as “the mother of African-American journalism,” she was a prolific writer and orator also involved in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Her career as a speaker began with the Anti-Slavery Society in 1853. In 1894, Harper helped found the National Association of Colored Women and served as its vice president.

“A hundred thousand new-born babes are annually added to the victims of slavery; twenty thousand lives are annually sacrificed on the plantations of the South. Such a sight should send a thrill of horror through the nerves of civilization and impel the heart of humanity to lofty deeds. So it might, if men had not found out a fearful alchemy by which this blood can be transformed into gold. Instead of listening to the cry of agony, they listen to the ring of dollars and stoop down to pick up the coin.”

Frances E.W. Harper, “Liberty for Slaves” (1857)


“I could not rest if I heard the lash.

Drinking her blood at each fearful gash.

And I saw her babes torn from her breast,

Like trembling doves from their parent nest.”

Frances E.W. Harper, “Bury Me in a Free Land” (1858)

(II.) Mary Church Terrell, a prominent suffragist and civil rights activist, was an educator and among one of the first Black women to earn a college degree. Terrell taught in the Latin Department at the first African-American high school located in Washington D.C. In 1896, she was the first Black woman to be appointed to the school board of a major city when she served until 1906 in the District of Columbia. She was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909) and the Colored Women’s League of Washington (1894). Also, she helped in founding the National Association of Colored Women (1896) and served as its first national president, and she also was a founding member of the National Association of College Women (1910).

“For this reason it was thought best to invite the attention of the world to the fact that colored women feel their responsibility as a unit, and together have clasped hands to assume it. Special stress has been laid upon the fact that our association is composed of women, not because we wish to deny rights and privileges to our brothers in imitation of the example they have set for us so many years, but because the work which we hope to accomplish can be done better, by the mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters of our race than by the fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons.”

Mary Church Terrell, “In Union There Is Strength” (1897)

“As a colored woman I may enter more than one white church in Washington without receiving that welcome which as a human being I have a right to expect in the sanctuary of God. Sometimes the color blindness of the usher takes on that peculiar form which prevents a dark face from making any impression whatsoever upon his retina, so that it is impossible for him to see colored people at all. If he is not so afflicted, after keeping a colored man or woman waiting a long time, he will ungraciously show these dusky Christians who have had the temerity to thrust themselves into a temple where only the fair of face are expected to worship God to a seat in the rear, which is named in honor of a certain personage, well known in this country, and commonly called Jim Crow.”

Mary Church Terrell, “What It Means to Be Colored in the Capital of the United States” (1906)

(III.) Anna Julia Cooper was an African-American women’s rights activist, an author, an educator, and a sociologist who was active in Black Liberation and is one of the most prominent African-American scholars in U.S. history. Her major work is titled A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South, published in 1892. It is regarded as a forerunner in Black feminist thought. She delivered speeches calling for both women’s rights and civil rights. Notable among Cooper’s speeches is “Women’s Cause Is One and Universal,” delivered as an address to the World Congress of Representative Women in Chicago during the year 1893.

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class,—it is the cause of human kind, the very birthright of humanity.”

Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South: By a Black Woman of the South (1892)

“The colored woman feels that woman’s cause is one and universal; and that not till the image of God, whether in parian or ebony, is sacred and inviolable; not till race, color, sex, and condition are seen as the accidents, and not the substance of life; not till the universal title of humanity to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is conceded to be inalienable to all; not till then is woman’s lesson taught and woman’s cause won—not the white woman’s, nor the black woman’s, not the red woman’s, but the cause of every man and of every woman who has writhed silently under a mighty wrong.”

Anna Julia Cooper, “Woman’s Cause Is One and Universal” (1893)

(IV.) Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree, was an African-American women’s rights activist and abolitionist who, after escaping slavery, preached against the institution of chattel slavery alongside other feminists of her time, including Stanton and Anthony. She is best known for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman” delivered in Akron, Ohio in 1851.

“But we’ll have our rights; see if we don’t; and you can’t stop us from them; see if you can. […] Women don’t get half as much rights as they ought to; we want more, and we will have it.”

Sojourner Truth, “What Time of Night It Is” (1853)

“My friends, I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don’t know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field—the country of the slave. They have got their liberty so much good luck to have slavery partly destroyed; not entirely. I want it root and branch destroyed. Then we will all be free indeed.”

Sojourner Truth, “What Time of Night It Is” (1853)

(V.) Ida B. Wells was a prominent women’s rights activist, an investigative journalist, and an early leader of the Civil Rights Movement. She was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She is best known for her 1892 pamphlet Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, which exposed the terrorism used against the Black community.

“Men who stand high in the esteem of the public for Christian character, for moral and physical courage, for devotion to the principles of equal and exact justice to all, and for great sagacity, stand as cowards who fear to open their mouths before this great outrage. They do not see that by their tacit encouragement, their silent acquiescence, the black shadow of lawlessness in the form of lynch law is spreading its wings over the whole country.”

Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892)

“There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town [Memphis, Tennessee] which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”

Ida B. Wells, Editorial in Free Speech (1892)

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