Good morning, it’s Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, the last day of a long, hot summer with dangerous weather from California to the Caribbean. Although attention is focused this week on how Biden administration immigration policies have led to chaos along the southern U.S. border, it was an earthquake and devastating hurricane that sent thousands of Haitians fleeing their country for South America — and now the relative, if temporary, safety of Texas.
Although it seems unlikely that the arrival of autumn will improve U.S. politics — or race relations, for that matter — it should at least provide a respite from extreme weather events.
Speaking of race, five years ago this week, the National Museum of African American History & Culture opened its doors. It did so with great fanfare. Our country’s first African American president helped dedicate the museum, which swiftly became a stunning success.
Its exhibits and narratives remind us that social progress rarely comes quickly and does not move forward in a straight line. I’m thinking this morning of a little-known American hero whom I wrote about five years ago today. It was on this date in 1832, at a meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society, that a 29-year-old black woman made history just by taking the dais to speak publicly at Boston’s Franklin Hall. Her name was Maria W. Stewart, and I’ll have more about her in a moment.
First, I’d direct you to our front page, which aggregates, as it does each day, an array of columns and stories spanning the political spectrum. We also offer a complement of original material from RCP’s reporters and contributors, including the following:
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Arizona Election Audit Undermines Protocols — and Confidence. Derek T. Muller compares the reexamination of ballots in Maricopa County with those conducted elsewhere.
Stain of Afghanistan Will Stick to Biden. Charles Lipson explains why the chaotic withdrawal and its aftermath likely have staying power.
We Need to Save Lebanon. At RealClearWorld, Sen. Bill Cassidy and Marc Malek warn that the deepening economic crisis, if not addressed, will have threaten American interests and security across the region.
How the “Empty Quarter” Became America’s Success Story. At RealClearPolicy, Jeremy Carl examines the causes for growth in sparsely populated Western states.
Hidden Costs of Anti-Plastics Campaigns. Also at RCPolicy, Angela Logomasini spotlights life-cycle assessments, which calculate each product’s environmental impact from cradle (production) to grave (disposal).
Assessing the “Human Infrastructure” Retirement Proposal. At RealClearMarkets, Mark Warshawsky considers requirements placed on virtually all private-sector employers under the plan.
Vivek Ramaswamy’s “Woke Inc.” Also at RCMarkets, Russell Greene reviews the biotech entrepreneur’s new book.
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Maria W. Stewart was born Maria Miller in 1803, in Connecticut. Her parents were free blacks, meaning that Maria was never a slave. She was orphaned at age 5, however, and placed as a domestic in the home of a New England clergyman. There, she was taught to read and write. She also learned her Bible, and learned it well.
At 15, she hired out as a domestic servant. At 23, she wed a black shipping agent named James W. Stewart. Stewart was a combat veteran of the War of 1812 who had spent time as a prisoner of war in Great Britain. Although she was half Stewart’s age, it seems to have been a marriage of love: She even took his middle initial as her own. The couple assumed their place in Boston’s emerging black middle class; inspired by prominent African American abolitionist David Walker, both became active in the anti-slavery movement. But Maria’s husband died in 1829. Six months later, Walker died too.
In her grief, Maria could have folded her tent, especially after the machinations of the legal system denied her the widow’s pension she was entitled to because of her husband’s military service. Instead, she went back to work while reconnecting with the old-time religion of her childhood. All those hours spent learning to read — learning to read by poring over the Bible — bore fruit.
Her new religious awakening dovetailed with her evolving political activism. Convinced that she was called to become a foot soldier “for God and for freedom,” she reached out to crusading abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who published her writings in his paper.
On Sept. 21, 1832, when Maria Stewart rose to speak at Franklin Hall, it one of the first times in this country that any woman, white or black, had spoken to a mixed-gender audience about politics. The lecture she gave that day — titled “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” — was not intended to make her audience comfortable.
She challenged the sexism that existed even within the liberation community. She chastised New England abolitionists for their smugness about Southern slavery, comparing the latter to the virtual economic servitude of black laborers in the North. And she dismissed the back-to-Africa movement then popular among certain radicals as misguided. In its place she was offering something else, a kind of African American Exceptionalism.
She spoke publicly for three years before abdicating her pulpit. And the long arc of her own career took a turn late in life. In 1878, while living in Washington, D.C., her widow’s pension from her husband’s service in the U.S. Navy was finally awarded to her. It wasn’t a lot of money — $8 a month, plus some back pay — but she used it to republish some of her old writings, along with other reminiscences, in a volume titled “Meditations From the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart.”
Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics