Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Colored Conventions Movement
HARPER’S LECTURING CIRCUIT
Harper traveled extensively as a lecturer, and the Colored Conventions she attended were only some of the numerous meetings in which she delivered speeches. Over her lifetime, she attended the 1858 Convention of the Colored Men of Ohio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and addressed the 1864 National Convention of Colored Men in Syracuse, New York, and the 1873 Convention of Colored People in Dover, Delaware. The convention proceedings minimize Harper’s participation and do not give further details about the speeches. However, newspaper reports about her offer insights on what she talked about. The following pages piece together reports about Harper’s participation in three Colored Conventions. Harper’s prolific career as a lecturer and writer, however, extended well beyond the Colored Conventions movement. Garnering a lot of attention and praise, she was often the subject of articles in Black and white newspapers. Black communities and anti-slavery circles throughout the US recognized Click on the tabs below to read about her addresses in various states.
In an extensive article about the Maryland State Temperance Alliance meeting, the author conveys some of Harper’s remarks in her address:
Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper, colored, made a very eloquent address. In speaking of women voting and the opposition to it, she said that if woman had been such a success at home that man did not want her to leave it, the time might come when men would sav “we have been legislating for 6,000 years, and see what a fist we have made of it; let us get women to help us.” Some might say, if woman gete an inch she will take an ell. That may be so, but if she is a true woman, even if she has 1,000 votes, home will be her throne. It takes a long time to get an idea into the life of a nation. It took God 2,000 years to imbue the Jewish nation with the idea of one God, and since then they have never worshipped idols. It took the people of the United States over 100 years to get the idea that all men are created equal, and some of them hardly believe it yet. | Laughter] Woman could do a great deal. Her name was first in the Jewish Scriptures. “The woman gave me to eat.” said Adam, and there have been men mean enough to lay the blame of their sins on her ever since. [Laughter.] But she has had influence through all history and when she comes to man for his protection it is not manly for him to withhold it. Local option in Maryland pleased her. It suited her people. Many of them are republicans. Freedom came in the wake of the republican party, and some of them thought that party is the deck and everything else was the sea. [Laughter.] Local option is not a party question, and in this light she was pleased with it.
“State Temperance Alliance.” The Baltimore Sun, 3 May 1879, p. 7.
A Brooklyn-based newspaper recorded parts of Harper’s address about education:
It was “Endowment Day” at the Bridge Street A. M. E. Church yesterday. The Rev. G. T. Watkins, D.D., preached an able sermon in the morning from Deuteronomy, third chapter and seventeenth verse. His theme was: “Moses 1 Viewing the Promised Land from Mount Pisgah.”
In the evening, Mrs. Frances E. W. Harper of Philadelphia, the famous temperance lecturer, spoke on the subject of “Education.” There was a large congregation present, and a deep interest in the discourse was manifested. Dr. Watkins’ introductory remarks were to the effect that Mrs. Harper was a lady well- known to the American people, having been a public lecturer for the last thirty years, and that she ranked among the finest lecturers of the land, and was superior to many who enjoyed a national reputation.
Mrs. Harper spoke in part as follows:
“About thirty years ago we stood before the world a homeless race; to-day we are comfortably housed; then we were an ignorant people and needed to be taught to read, but this was no easy task. Without instruction we would have been left a mass of ignorance in this country, a danger to the perpetuity of its free institutions. And although we have made rapid progress in education, yet many do not realize the fearful amount of illiteracy still existing among us. To leave a people in ignorance has been pronounced ‘a crime against the human soul,’ and hence there lies upon the more favored classes a great and awful responsibility to enlighten those who have been denied an opportunity to learn.
“This is ‘Endowment Day’ among us, and we are called upon to contribute of our limited means to the support of our schools and colleges in the Southland. But there is an institution of learning which antedates the school—the home— and here is where those lessons of morality are to be taught which shall build up the character for time and eternity There are three R’s attached to those who have Only educated the head, with the possibility of another being added that of rascality.
“When I was in one of the Southern cities I found that 90 per cent of the prisoners were colored people, but this mas have been due to the fact that the length of their terms is twice that of the whites. One negro was sentenced for fifteen years for stealing a jug of buttermilk. I believe the chain-gang system, instead of lessening crime, is a great source of production of the criminal classes. It breeds criminals instead of suppressing them. It is a regular school of crime.
“I was down in Alabama when a comparison was made between three Northern and three Southern States as to what was the numerical relation of young men to the church, and it was found that only five per cent belonged to the church. 20 per cent attended church and 73 per cent did not attend church at all.
“I believe in the habits of blood. It is said that during a period of 117 years only ten murderers were found among the Jews. Say whatever else we may about them, they furnish fewer criminals than any other race of people in the world. If this is true of the Jews, with their opportunities, what ought we to do? What ought the American people to do? There is a screw loose somewhere in our American civilization.
“The masses in the South need to be educated, not only the blacks, but whites as well. In North Carolina, where there are some of the finest schools in the South, the white children are growing up in ignorance; they monopolize the factory work, and leave nothing for the colored children to do but attend school, and they are attending.
“As to lynchings, I have traveled over most of the Southern States and came in contact with the best white people, and have never yet heard a white lady complain of a single indignity from a colored man. When Gov. Northen of Georgia offered $200 reward for the apprehension of the parties who burned that negro in his State. I thought that the colored people ought to have come together and thanked him for what he had done; they would have thus shown at least their appreciation and interest in a common cause.
“But the time will soon come when our people will come forth not only Anglicized and Americanized, but educated and Christianized, and take their place in the world for the uplifting of a common humanity.”
“Education.” The Standard Union, 17 September 1894, p. 7.
After the Civil War, Harper lectured about racial uplift and the changes that Black communities were experiencing.
Of Mrs. Harper , the Newark Evening Courier of Tuesday evening, July 10, 1866, says: – One of the most eloquent and thrilling lectures ever heard by an audience in this city, was delivered in the Franklin street M.E. Church last evening, by Mrs. Frances E. Watkins Harper . We have heard Mrs. Harper compared to Miss Dickinson, for power as a speaker, but having heard both, we have no hesitancy in giving the palm of superiority to Mrs. Harper . She combines, perhaps, equal vigor of thought and comprehensiveness of view, while she possesses more eloquence of utterance, and a more keen, penetrating and facile wit. Although her audience last night was very small, she stirred them deeply. The subject of the relations of the negro to the great conflict through which the nation has passed, and to the question of national reconstruction, was discussed in a masterly and pungent style, while the argument was irradiated by gleams of wit, and pointed by tearful illustrations of the degrading and crushing power of caste. After the lecture was concluded, Rev. S.P. Roony of the Clinton street M.E. Church, suggested that the lecture be repeated in our city, and that a committee be appointed to make the necessary arrangements. On motion, Rev. J. Atkinson was called to the chair, and the following gentlemen who were present were appointed for the purpose: John Hartshorne, John W. Poinier, Henry Price, H. Ulrick, Walter McCann, Benj. DeCamp and Abram Overbaugh. On consultation with Mrs. Harper , the committee concluded to have the lecture repeated next week. We hope our citizens will not fail to hear one so gifted, and pleads so eloquently in behalf of her race.
“Mrs. Harper’s Lecture.” The Christian Recorder, 21 July 1866, p. 114.
Mrs. Harper read her new poem, “Story of the Nile,” i.e. Moses, before an audience in the above church that must have made her feel proud. To a purely, literary treat, it is such a hard thing to get our people to attend, that when one can call together, such an audience as was assembled last Friday evening to hear the reading of the poem, and to witness the presentation of a Bible by miss Carrie V. Still, surely he has reason to congratulate himself. The whole affair passed off most pleasantly. The reading of Mrs . Harper showed unmistakable improvement since the Concert Hall evening. But why should it not, what inspiration is there in benches? What in an empty Hall? Mrs . Harper’s improved reading per chance was nothing more than the outflow of genius ever consequent upon sparkling eyes, and not a few of them. Miss Carrie V. Still, in her maiden effort captivated the audience. We print her presentation effort in another column. The reception speech by the pastor, Rev. John B. Reeve, was a model of pathos and simplicity; just such a speech as only a polished brain can produce. N.B. We learn that Mrs . Harper is having her poem printed. If so, every person should get a copy.
“Lombard St. Presbyterian Church.” The Christian Recorder, 23 January 1869.
Noticing a lecture recently delivered in Norristown by Mrs . F.E.W. Harper upon the subject of Temperance, the Daily Herald, aside from giving an extended quotation from the address, said: “Mrs . Harper’ s lecture in the Baptist church last evening was a rare literary treat. It proved two points that some are loth to admit: The ability of the African when educated to appear on the rostrum as the equal of the Caucasian; second, that woman is equally efficient and capable with man, and is rapidly developing in ability and extent of acquirements. Mrs . Harper is a colored lady of fine appearance, and as a public speaker or lecturer is the equal of any lady lecturer now on the rostrum in this country.”
“Editorial Briefs.” The Christian Recorder, 30 September 1870.
FRANCES WATKINS HARPER. -This talented woman is not merely sustaining her reputation as a public speaker, but is rather excelling herself as it were. She seems to have “renewed her youth,” and is as bright and sparkling and full of poetry as she was twenty years ago. At present she is doing a grand work as National Superintendent of work among Colored People, for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. At the recent State Convention of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, held at Lewisburg, PA, Mrs. Harper made a decided impression as to her ability as a speaker and stirred the audience by her earnest eloquence. One of the delegates from a town in Western Pennsylvania declared she would engage Mrs. Harper to speak for them if she had to pay the expense out of her own pocket. Mrs. Harper is a ready speaker and is never at a loss for ideas. She is logical and argumentative and witty, but much of her success as a speaker depends on the qualities of her voice; it is clear, honest, silvery. It is a voice that thrills and electrifies and once heard can never be forgotten. H. V. A.
“FRANCIS WATKINS HARPER.” The Christian Recorder, 3 November 1887, p. 5.