On February 24, 2007, Carol and I I attended a conference on the Underground Railroad: Uncovering the Voices of Women, organized for the sixth year in a row by our friends Paul and Mary Liz Stewart. It was excellent.
One of the sessions was “From the UGR to Women’s Rights: Historic Sites in Central NY” by Judy Wellman, Ph.D. From the program: “Nationally, abolitionism provided one of the most important roots of the early women’s rights movement. In central NY, a survey of sites relating to African Americans and European Americans involved with the UGR suggests powerful connections between the UGR and early women’s rights movement.” One finds a number of suffragists at the forefront of the anti-slavery movement, described well here. The quote in the title is by early feminist Frederick Douglass.
I can’t help but notice the parallels between the 19th and 20th Century women’s movements. The article cited above notes how a major anti-slavery convention in London in 1840 did not seat or hear from women delegates, two of whom were Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I recall the discussions during the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, where women (rightly) complained that they were being relegated to the sidelines, expected to do the cleaning and cooking, while the menfolk did the “important” organizing.
The toughest part of the conference had to be in the opening plenary session, in which Delores M. Walters, Ph.D. described “The Narrative Life of Margaret Garner’s Life and Beyond”. Margaret Garner was a slave who, with her family, attempted to escape, but was recaptured. Rather than letting her two-year-old be brought back into slavery, she killed her. Margaret was put on trial, and returned to slavery, but died soon thereafter.
There is now an opera, written by Toni Morrison, author of the book “Beloved”, which has a narrative section that parallels Margaret Garner’s life. It has been performed a number of times already, and it will be performed again in New York City in September 2007.
The conference ended with a responsive reading of a litany, found here.
The conference is already planning for next year, so if you’re in the area, please consider attending.