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Clint Smith teaches you about Maria Stewart, a Black woman who lived in the 19th century, and was a pioneering abolitionist, writer, and orator. When studying history, we often focus on the big picture and world-changing events. Today we'll focus on how one woman flouted the social conventions of her time and place and became a notable public speaker, thinker, and writer.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!

-Kimberle Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics 31.
-Maria W. Stewart, America’s First Black Woman Political Writer: Essays and Speeches, edited and introduced by Marilyn Richardson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987)
-Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: HarperCollins, 1984).

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CC Kids:

I’m Clint Smith and this is Crash Course Black American History. So I have a daughter who is two years old.

She is smart, and funny, and kind, and very very opinionated. Even with the limited language of a toddler, she is not at all afraid to make sure you know how she feels about something at any time--whether it’s how many crackers she wants in her bowl during snack time or which book she wants to read before bed. She speaks her mind, regardless of the subject matter.

And this is something that my wife and I--it’s something we want to encourage. For too long, in our country’s (and in our world’s) history, women have been told they should stay silent, keep their opinions to themselves, leave it to men to solve the problems and to have the ideas. That’s ridiculous.

We want our daughter to know her voice matters, and that as a young Black girl, she comes from a long tradition of Black women who have refused to be silenced, and who have made it their mission to speak up. Today we’re going to learn about a 19th century Black woman who made a huge impact by using her voice. Even when everything and everyone around her told her to stay silent: her government, her religious community, her society.

Her name is Maria Stewart – she was a writer, orator, and thinker who wasn’t afraid to let people know what she thought. A woman who laid the groundwork for many generations of women, and men, who would come after her. Let’s start the show!

INTRO Maria Stewart was born Maria Miller, as a free person, in Hartford, Connecticut in 1803 to two African born parents. But by the time she turned five, she was an orphan. Maria was then “bound out as an indentured servant” to a local clergyman’s family until she was fifteen years old.

Eventually, Maria moved to Boston, Massachusetts and married a businessman named James W. Stewart. James was much older than Maria, and prior to meeting her, he had spent quite a bit of time serving on various ships during the War of 1812.

They settled in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston and were members of the Black middle class community there. In many ways, this was a thriving Black community, but the people there weren’t content to simply do well for themselves, they wanted to advocate for their people. They didn’t want to be exceptional, they thought that every Black person, North and.

South, should be free. David Walker was a Black activist and philosophical leader who lived near Maria and her husband, and he used his platform to fight against slavery in the United States. One of his most important contributions to African-American history was a pamphlet, which went by the title. “Walker's Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of.

America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829”. Yea, that whole thing is the title. This was an era when gigantic titles were super trendy.

And while the title may have been trendy, the content was pretty scathing, arguing that. Black Americans were: “the most wretched, degraded and abject set of beings that [ever] lived since the world began, down to the present day, and, that, the white Christians of America, who hold us in slavery, (or, more properly speaking, pretenders to Christianity,) treat us more cruel and barbarous than any Heathen nation did any people whom it had subjected...“ As the famous philosopher Biggie Smalls said: “If you don’t know, now you know”. Walker’s work was important to the anti-slavery movement because he specifically called out.

White Christians, as a Christian himself, for being complicit in supporting slavery and its brutality. Walker was a really important intellectual mentor of Maria Stewart and used the bit of privilege he had as a Black man to publicize her thoughts on religion and the anti-slavery movement. Unfortunately, Maria would be in for some really difficult years ahead.

Her husband James passed away on December 17, 1829 – only three years after they were married. And though James had provided money for Maria in his will, she was denied access to that inheritance by the white executors of that will. And as a result, she was forced back into domestic labor for some time.

The following year, she lost her dear friend and mentor David Walker. Though it’s unclear how, some believe that he was poisoned because of his revolutionary and abolitionist ideas. With the tragic and sudden losses of two men who were so central to her life, Maria deepened her religious commitment in an effort to get her get through this tumultuous period.

Though Maria was grieving the losses of her husband and her friend, and was forced back into a position of servitude, her thoughts on freedom and liberty for Black people further radicalized during that time. She also started to gain more recognition for her own ideas. Newspaper editors such as William Lloyd Garrison, became increasingly interested in the ideas of women abolitionists.

Garrison was one of the most famous abolitionists of the day, and recognizing Maria's talent and depth, he began promoting her ideas to a wider audience. In 1831, Maria published an influential pamphlet called Religion and The Pure Principles of. Morality, The Sure Foundation on Which We Must Build, which at the time was actually a pretty concise title.

According to scholar Jane Duran, Maria’s pamphlet was very important for three reasons. First, the work spoke to all Black women regardless of servitude status. She focused on engaging in a cause that would later be called “uplift,” encouraging everyone “to seek a higher ground” – which was a common theme in Bostonian culture and literature.

Second, she deftly employed religious ideas to make her points. Maria highlighted that the Christian principle of love was completely opposed to the way that Christians of the day treated enslaved and often free Black people. She also used biblical references to highlight the role of Ethiopia in Judeo-Christian history as a way to affirm that Black people were equal and valuable.

Third, she pushed back against one of the contemporary justifications of slavery: that. Black people deserved enslavement because they lacked intelligence or potential. And she did that by listing the achievements of many Black individuals of African descent.

She also suggested that, in her opinion, enslaved people were not doing enough to pursue freedom for themselves, and that, rightfully so, was met with fervent criticism. As we’ve discussed in other episodes, Black people resisted slavery and exercised agency in a variety of ways. The blame should always be placed on the enslaver, never the enslaved.

Still, Maria’s work was pivotal to the anti-slavery movement. And Maria was always cognizant of what allowed the US economy to prosper, writing in the pamphlet, “it is the blood of our fathers, and the tears of our brethren that have enriched your soils.” Let's learn more about Maria in the Thought

Bubble:. As a result of her pamphlet’s success, Maria was asked to give more speeches on abolition, religion, and her intellectual work. One speech was sponsored by an organization called the Afric-American Female Intelligence. Society of Boston.

Usually at this point in US History, women only spoke in private. But Maria spoke to an audience of MEN and women, who were both Black and White – which was mostly unheard of at that time. And I mean, it’s not like she was not here talking about how to prepare the best 19th.

Century pot roast (no offense to pot roast). She was out here talking about serious issues like civil rights and feminism. In her speech, Maria said, ...

O woman, woman! Upon you I call; for upon your exertions almost entirely depends whether the rising generation shall be any thing more than we have been or not O woman, woman! Your example is powerful, your influence great; it extends over your husbands and your children, and throughout the circle of your acquaintance.” Maria fearlessly shared with her audience that they could not stand by and condone slavery – especially if they claimed to be religious.

She also empowered women to stand up for themselves, and use their influence to make this country what it promised it would be, for everyone. And Maria didn’t stop there. She continued to give speeches on the abolitionist movement and women’s rights.

She later became a teacher who taught in New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. Thanks Thought Bubble. Maria’s story is interesting because it’s a really good example of what can happen when people in positions of power provide a platform to those with less of it.

You may have heard of the word “intersectionality.” We touch on themes of intersectionality in our previous episode on Black Women’s Labor. This term was developed by Columbia Law School professor Kimberlé Crenshaw and is used to describe the challenge of being a part of multiple marginalized groups and how such marginalization shapes our lives in complex ways. Crenshaw’s theory, which many feminist scholars, specifically Black feminists, have argued for decades, highlights that some groups are more or less marginalized than others because of the complexity of gender and race – a theme that Maria Stewart tackled in her work way back in the 19th century.

Both William Lloyd Garrison, a White man, and David Walker, a Black man, used their positions of power as men to elevate Maria Stewart’s voice. And because those men shared their platform with someone who had a different lived experience than them, someone whose voice at that time would have largely gone unheard, Maria Stewart’s voice was elevated to a place where everyone had to listen. It’s not to say that these men deserve gold stars or anything for that, they don’t.

They did what all of us should try to do in all of the various parts of our lives. Still, providing Maria with a platform to share her ideas did help her contribute to a larger societal discussion that at that point was largely being led by men. Women have always deserved a seat at the table, it’s just been a matter of whether or not men were willing to make room.

And Maria Stewart...her life is a reminder of why that’s so important. Thanks for watching, I’ll see you next time. Crash Course is made with the help of all these nice people and our animation team is.

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