Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the Colored Conventions Movement
Like Harper, Edmonia Goodelle Highgate spoke at the 1864 Syracuse Convention. She took the podium on the second day of the Convention when Frederick Douglass introduced her by declaring “you have your Anna Dickinsons; and we have ours. We wish to meet you at every point” (1). In this comparison, Douglass equates Highgate with the first woman to address Congress about political issues. Indeed, Highgate had appeared before Congress and President Lincoln just months before in January of 1964. At the height of her career and well-respected by the press as Douglass likened the two orators, like Highgate, Dickinson enjoyed a reputation for her impassioned commitment to abolition and justice when she was just in her teens. Like Highgate, Dickinson enjoyed a reputation for her impassioned commitment to abolition and justice when she was just in her teens. Still, the comparison to this well-known white orator paradoxically positions Highgate in Dickinson’s shadow. The Proceedings record “the President introduced Miss Edmonia Highgate, an accomplished young lady of Syracuse. Miss Highgate urged the Convention to trust in God and press on, and not abate one jot or tittle until the glorious day of jubilee shall come” (2). Following this description, the Proceedings cover male delegates such as John Mercer Langston in greater detail and length; she doesn’t make another appearance in the convention minutes. Although Robert Hamilton, a delegate and editor, published “An Interesting Pamphlet” in the Liberator December 23, 1864 summarizing the Convention, he also fails to mention either Harper’s or Highgate’s speech (3). Yet, as with Harper, we can investigate other ways the press reveals glimpses of Highgate’s activism. Additionally, looking to Highgate’s biography may provide a better sense of her overall career and connection to the Conventions (4).
Born in 1844 to Charles and Hannah Francis Highgate, Edmonia Highgate was the first known Black person to graduate from Syracuse High School with honors in 1861. Highgate received a teaching certificate through the Syracuse Board of Education where she migrated South to teach through the American Missionary Association (AMA) where she organized the Louisiana Educational Relief Association for Black children.(4) Highgate wrote for the Christian Recorder as well as the American Freedman. Despite her passion for teaching, Highgate became emotionally and physically drained from the teaching conditions in the South. In a letter to George Whipple on June 1, 1864, Highgate expressed “so many of my people who have spent most of manhood’s and womanhood’s freshness in slavery” that have caused “peculiar crushing emotions which, at first, check even my utterance.”(5) Highgate also experienced trauma through the 1866 New Orleans Massacre as well assisting Southern Black soldiers and white hostility. (6) The 1866 New Orleans Massacre took place on July 30 as a result of white Democrats and police attacking Black Republicans at the Mechanics Institute. Black Republicans gathered in this space during the Louisiana Constitutional Convention to discuss and denounce the newly passed Black Codes and exclusion of voting rights for Black men. The massacre left over 150 people killed, with 34 of those killed being Black. (7) Highgate wrote a letter to that was published in the 18 August 1866 Recorder titled “New Orleans Correspondence” where she described how the massacre influenced her decision to leave. (8) Though it’s rarely taught or cited, Highgate also published a serialized novel in May of 1865, Congojoco, in the Christian Recorder. (9) Unfortunately, Highgate had an early and untimely death in 1870. We see through obituary statements and letter from family members in the New Orleans Republican that Highgate was highly valued as a teacher and orator of her time.
Read some of Edmonia Highgate’s contributions to the The Christian Recorder below:
 Address of the Colored National Convention to the People of the United States,” Proceedings of the National Convention of Colored Men, Held in the City of Syracuse, N.Y., October 4, 5, 6, and 7, 1864, with the Bill of Wrongs and Rights, and the Address to the American People ([Boston]: Printed for the Convention, 1864)
 Gardner, Eric. “‘A Word Fitly Spoken’: Edmonia Highgate, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and the 1864 Syracuse Convention”, not yet published.
 Stolp-Smith, M. (2011, April 07) New Orleans Massacre (1866). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/new-orleans-massacre-1866/
 Gardner, Eric. “Edmonia Highgate, the New Orleans Massacre, & Christian Recording .” Black Print Culture, www.blackprintculture.com/bpu-blog/edmonia-highgate-the-new-orleans-massacre-christian-recording.
 The Christian Recorder, “Congojoco”, Philadelphia, PA. 20 May 1865. Accessible Archives.
Edited by: Dr. Gabrielle Foreman.