By Mimi Kennedy
Frederick Douglass gave this speech in my hometown - Rochester, NY. Which, I am ever proud, was a bastion of anti-slavery activity (along with Women’s Rights: Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester.) He spoke in 1852.
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was in force, meaning slaves like Douglass, who’d escaped from the south, could be legally seized and returned south, under federal law. Nothing doing, said Rochester and many other northern city residents and officials! Sound familiar, sanctuary cities?! Such places forbade their police forces to engage in “slave-catching.” In Syracuse, an organized group freed a captured fugitive slave from the city jail where they heard he was being held. Frederick Douglass spoke with deep emotion and grand eloquence, and this is still a brilliant lesson on the vast difference in racial experience – the unspoken assumptions of white privilege, the long pain of ongoing denial of black people’s humanity in great and small ways. Radical? You bet. As our current president said, “I hear he’s doing a great job.” (It is widely believed, but of course not acknowledged, that this president, not recognizing Douglass’ name from history, didn’t know he was dead.) Ok, well in some ways he’s not. His words will live on and if we want to be a strong nation, we must heed them.
So read this:
Fred’s still doing a great job.
Matilda Joslyn Gage, at the Philadelphia Centennial celebration of 1876, interrupted the proceedings to present a Declaration of Women’s Rights, to the presiding male potentate. She and Susan B. Anthony, who did the action with Matilda, had been expressly told they could not present such a document, as it would detract from the august dignity of the ceremonies. At the time, women had few legal rights – couldn’t use the courts, couldn’t vote, couldn’t go to many colleges. Sympathetic journalists gave Matilda and Susan their seats in the press section near the stage, and after the reading of the Declaration of Independence by a descendant of one of the signers, the women stormed the podium and presented their 3-foot scroll to the astonished Veep, who looked, Matilda noted later, “near death.” They then announced to the crowd that they were entering this declaration into the historic record on behalf of the ‘daughters of 1976” that they might know their foremothers had not been silent about the denial of their rights, and had “impeached the current government” for denying them to female citizens, thus defying the Constitution. For more information about Matilda Josyln Gage visit http://www.matildajoslyngage.org