African-American Perspectives
The Progress of a People
Segregation and Violence Solving the Race Problem Contributions to the Nation

SESSION 3: Our Place in Politics | Work Among Our Women | Negro in the Wars of the Nation | Address to the Country

Session Topic
Work Among Our Women
African-American women have a tradition of independence and leadership dating back to the times of slavery. In spite of great danger, black women took leading roles in the struggle for abolition; two strong leaders were Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman. Truth was a powerful speaker against slavery. A heckler once called out, "Old woman...I don't care any more for your talk than I do for the bite of a flea." Truth replied, "Perhaps not, but the good Lord willing, I'll keep you scratching."

Harriet Tubman, a slave, obtained her freedom, declaring, "I had a right to liberty or death; if I could not have one I would have another." Despite a reward of $40,000 for her capture, pistol-packing Tubman returned to the South many times, leading more than 300 slaves to their freedom via the "Underground Railway." She served with Union forces during the Civil War and acted as a scout behind enemy lines.

After the Civil War, African-American women such as Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mary McCloud Bethune, and Mary Church Terrell were active participants in the struggle for advancement and against Jim Crow segregation laws.

Pamphlet Excerpt
from "The Progress of Colored Women" by Mary Church Terrell

.WAV format   |   Entire Pamphlet

Audio Transcription:

Fifty years ago a meeting such as this, planned, conducted and addressed by women would have been an impossibility. Less than forty years ago, few sane men would have predicted that either a slave or one of his descendants would in this century at least, address such an audience in the Nation's Capital....Thus to me this semi-centennial of the National American Woman Suffrage Association is a double jubilee, rejoicing as I do, not only in the prospective enfranchisement of my sex but in the emancipation of my race.

During those days of oppression and despair, colored women were not only refused admittance to institutions of learning, but the law made it a crime to teach them to read. Not only could they possess no property, but even their bodies were not their own. Nothing, in short, that could degrade or brutalize the womanhood of the race was lacking in that system from which colored women then had little hope of escape...But, from the day their fetters were broken and their minds released from the darkness of ignorance...from the day they could stand erect in the dignity of womanhood...colored women have forged steadily ahead in the acquisition of knowledge.

SESSIONS: Segregation and Violence | Solving the Race Problem | Contributions to the Nation

The Progress of a People

African-American Perspectives