Monday, December 12, 2005

Frederick Douglass: Feminist of the Day?

Frederick Douglas
Author, suffragist, abolitionist
"Right is of no Sex - Truth is of no Color."

Frederick Douglass's history was a pretty incredible one. He grew up a slave, gained his freedom, fought as an abolitionist, was a station on the railroad, and lived to see slavery end. His abolitionism was radical, he supported slave revolts, and he didn't limit his speeches to safe topics - he was willing to criticise racism in the north, and argue for Irish independance in Britain.

He was also, for a number of years, one of the staunchest male supporters of women's rights. He attended the 1848 Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention, and argued for the radical position to fight for women's suffrage. He signed a letter to Susan B Anthony: "Yours for the freedom of man and of woman always."

But then there's the matter of the 15th ammendment. There were a number of issue to clear up after the civil war (although most of them weren't), such as the right to vote. Frederick Douglass was one of the many people who encouraged feminists not to pursue women's suffrage during this time, as it was Negro's Hour. To me, this begs a pretty fundamental question, were all Negros Men?

There was one man, whose name I have forgotten, who said he didn't want to be able to vote until his daughters and sisters could vote with him. But Frederick Douglass didn't have to go that far. You can support an action while arguing that it didn't go far enough. He could have continued to support women's suffrage in the fifteenth amendment debate, and he certainly didn't need to argue that other people should stop that struggle.

I think the reaction of feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who opposed the 15th amendment because it didn't include women, is equally ridculous. Unfotunately what happened over the next fifty years shows that that sort of lack of solidarity can grow. What makes the whole situation really awful, is that the fifteenth amendment had slightly less force than a wet bus ticket.

Conclusion: His position on the fifteenth amendment fed into the view that unless you were a white man you were either a woman or a negro, but certainly not both. But he didamazing work for women, negros, and those who were both women and negros.

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