Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

83 EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL: THREE SPEECHES

Sojourner Truth

Although she was already over eighty years of age, Sojourner Truth, the great warrior for human freedom, was still actively engaged in the cause. A pioneer in the struggle for women's rights as well as freedom from slavery, Sojourner Truth made the rights of women a topic for many of her talks in the years following emancipation. She took strong exception to the understanding by Reverend Adams and others that "universal suffrage" meant the vote for men only.

On May 9 and 10, 1867, she spoke three times at the first annual meeting of the American Equal Rights Association held in New York City. Founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Phillips, and Theodore Tilton, the Equal Rights Association was intended to be an umbrella organization uniting the efforts of the American Anti-Slavery Society toward equal rights for African Americans with those of the new National Woman Suffrage Association. The call for the first convention of the Equal Rights Association explained:

The object of this Association is to "secure Equal Rights to all American citizens, especially the Right of Suffrage, irrespective of race, color, or sex." American Democracy has interpreted the Declaration of Independence in the interest of slavery, restricting suffrage and citizenship to a white male minority. . . . Let Democracy be defined anew, as the government of the people, AND THE WHOLE PEOPLE.

Let the gathering, then, at this anniversary be, in numbers and character, worthy, in some degree, the demands of the hour. The black man, even the black soldier, is yet but half emancipated, nor will be, until full suffrage and citizenship are secured to him in the Federal Constitution. Still more deplorable is the condition of the black woman; and legally, that of the white woman is no better! Shall the sun of the nineteenth century go down on wrongs like these, in this nation, consecrated in its infancy to justice and freedom? Rather let our meeting be pledge as well as prophecy to the world of mankind, that the redemption of at least one great nation is near at hand."

This coalition was soon to disintegrate, as prominent women suffragists such as Susan B. Anthony refused to support the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment ("I would sooner cut off my right hand," she remarked, "than ask the ballot for the black man and not for woman"). But Anthony was present at the first meeting of the Equal Rights Associa

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