Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900

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

137 THE AWAKENING OF THE AFRO-AMERICAN WOMAN

Victoria Earle Matthews

Born in slavery in Fort Valley, Georgia, and largely self-educated, Victoria Earle Matthews ( 1861-1907) worked as a free-lance reporter and short story writer and as the editor of a collection of excerpts from the speeches of Booker T. Washington ( Black Belt Diamonds, 1898). She was a leader in the black women's club movement and the anti- lynching campaigns of the early 1890s. But Matthews is best remembered for her social reform work in support of African American young women. Traveling through the South in 1896, Matthews was appalled at the condition and treatment of black women in employment and education. Following this trip and the death of her only child, she devoted herself to the moral and social uplift of girls and young women, both by publicizing their plight and by building institutions for their welfare.

On July 11, 1897, Matthews addressed the annual convention of the International Society of Christian Endeavor in San Francisco. Established in 1881, the interdenominational Christian youth organization had grown to over one million members. Forty thousand, including thirty thousand young people and delegates from every state and several countries, attended the San Francisco gathering. According to the account of the San Francisco convention in Harper Illustrated Weekly of July 31, 1897, "there was no race line, no denominational line, no color line, no sectional line drawn" (766).

Matthews speaks to the convention as one "to-day clothed in the garments of Christian womanhood," but who, like millions of other African American women, came out of the "horrible days of slavery." Emerging from a life in which "there was no attribute which had not been sullied," she reminds her listeners, she and others have struggled against all odds to build Christian homes and institutions. She appeals to the shared Christian principles and beliefs of her listeners to promote support for desegregation and other social reforms and services for African American women. In February 1897, six months before her speech to the Christian Endeavor convention, she had founded the White Rose Mission, which for more than eighty years provided settlement lodging and social services for homeless African American women, many of whom had migrated to New York from the South.

The text of Matthews's speech is published with the permission of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, at Yale University and was previously reprinted, with an introductory essay, in Shirley Wilson Logan, ed., With Pen andVoice: A Critical Anthology of Nineteenth-Century American Women

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