Race and Gender

Race and Gender

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 - 1963) was a sociologist, historian, and civil rights activist. He grew up in Massachusetts, where he was able to attend school alongside white children and not be subject to racial prejudice. It wasn't until visiting the south and seeing firsthand the effects of Jim Crow laws that Du Bois began to understand the racial divide in the U.S. He went on to become the first African American to receive a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895. After his schooling, Du Bois gained celebrity as a professor, writer, and activist; being particularly famous for his disagreements with Booker T. Washington, specifically over the role of higher education for African Americans. Alongside his views on education, Du Bois had a talent for brilliantly articulating the African American experience. His notions of the "veil" and the "double self" remain relevant metaphors to this day.

Saum Song Bo was a Chinese student in New York who, when asked to contribute a donation to the Pedestal Fund of the Statue of Liberty, wrote "A Chinese View of the Statue of Liberty." His letter was published in the October issue of American Missionary. He explains the offensive nature of being asked to donate to the Pedestal Fund since the Chinese Exclusion Act denied him and his countrymen the benefits of American Liberty.

Sojourner Truth (1797 – 1883) was a women’s rights and an abolitionist, as well as an escaped slave (Sojourner Truth is a self-given name). She escaped from the South in 1826 and moved to New York. After changing her name in 1844, she devoted herself to abolition and aiding the Union Army. After publishing her memoirs, Truth began touring and speaking at conventions in support of abolition and women’s rights. It was during this time she gave her extemporaneous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Over the rest of her life, Sojourner Truth’s activism would include advocacy for prison reform, universal suffrage, property rights for African Americans, as well as opposition to the death penalty.

Jane Addams (1860 – 1935) is one of the pioneering figures of social work in America. Coming from a wealthy family, Addams excelled in school during her youth and planned to study medicine in college, but had to change course due to medical problems of her own. As she was recovering and trying to figure out the direction her life should go in, Addams visited a settlement house in London’s East End. This visit helped her decide to open a similar establishment in Chicago. In 1889, her and her friend, Ellen G. Starr, opened Hull House. Hull House quickly became a bustling space of activity, education, and community within its neighborhood. As her reputation grew and she came to hold prominent positions in Chicago’s government, Addams turned her focus to anti-war activism. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.

The Seneca Falls Convention was the first large-scale women’s rights convention in the United States. Organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton after they were both excluded from the convention floor of the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention due to their gender. 200 women showed up to the first day of the convention, where the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances,” a document heavily inspired by the Declaration of Independence, was read aloud. The following day, when men could join the convention, the group adopted and signed the declaration alongside 12 resolutions they had passed. The only resolution that met opposition detailed women’s “right to the elective franchise” (the resolution for which the convention met intense opposition across the country), though that was eventually agreed upon.

As you read these texts, consider the founding documents. Who is included in the language of these texts, who is excluded (whether directly or indirectly)? Also, consider the different social contract theorists ideas on the state of slavery, and when it is appropriate for a group of people to demand more of their governing powers.