Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

By Philip S. Foner; Robert James Branham | Go to book overview

68 ADDRESS TO THE YOUTH

Sarah J. Woodson

Sarah Jane Woodson was an influential black nationalist, educator, and national leader of the temperance movement. Born in 1825 in Chillicothe, Ohio, she was the youngest of Thomas and Jemimma Riddle Woodson's eleven children. Shortly after their arrival in Ohio in 1820, her parents helped form the first black Methodist church west of the Alleghenies after experiencing racial discrimination within the established congregations. When Woodson was five, her family joined several others in the establishment of a separate and self-sufficient black farming community in Berlin Crossroads, Ohio. By 1840, the community had grown to twenty-three families and had established its own schools, stores, and churches. Woodson's father and two brothers (including her brother Lewis Woodson, an early black nationalist) were ministers in the A.M.E. church, and she became an active member following her conversion in 1839.

Sarah Woodson completed the collegiate program at Oberlin in 1856, becoming one of the first African American women to graduate from college. After graduation, she taught in black community schools in Ohio for several years. In 1863, she delivered a speech entitled "Address to Youth" to the members of the Ohio Colored Teachers' Association, an organization that had been formed in 1860. In her speech, which she gave in the midst of the Civil War and in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, Woodson urges African American youth to join in the political and social revolutions that have been produced by the conflict. She pleads with her young audience to take advantage of new educational opportunities, for "the obstacles which have so long barred you from the portals of knowledge, are fast being removed." In particular, she encourages students to pursue education and careers in the sciences, "from which you have hitherto been ousted with tenacious jealousy." Throughout the speech, Woodson appeals to an emerging sense of black nationalism.

In 1866, Woodson was appointed "Preceptress of English and Latin and Lady Principal and Matron" at Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, where her brother Lewis was a trustee. She thus became the first African American woman member of a college faculty.

In 1868, Woodson married Jordan Winston Early, a minister in the A.M.E. church, and until his death in 1903 taught in and administered black schools in the Tennessee communities where his churches were located. In 1888, she succeeded Frances E. W. Harper as national Superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In the four years she held this position, she delivered over one

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