Every summer I spend two days in Rochester, New York the final stop of our annual Underground Railroad study tour and the city where the Abolition and Women’s Suffrage movements converged in the unlikely friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass.
One of our stops, and one of my favorites in that city, is the tribute to the Anthony/Douglass friendship, a beautiful larger than life bronze statue of the two early American civil rights icons designed by Laotian sculptor Pepsy Kettavong, who can be easily convinced to join our group for pictures and an impromptu lecture on the meaning of his art. His house is one of the many Victorian era homes that border the square just feet from the statute. The Susan B. Anthony home, now a historic site, is located just around the corner.
The statue is called “Let’s Have Tea,” and features Ms. Anthony and Mr. Douglass sitting together, on a scale slightly larger than life-size, facing each other in sturdy Victorian chairs, with a table between them set with a teapot, two cups, and two books.
The two met and became friends in 1845 and in 1848 Douglass attended the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls and wrote about it in his newspaper, The North Star: “All that distinguishes man as an intelligent and account able being, is equally true of woman; and if that government is only just which governs by the free consent of the governed, there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the exercise of the elective franchise, or a hand in making and administering the laws of the land.”
After the Civil War, their friendship was challenged over the issue of suffrage. Under the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, African-Americans and women had the same civil and protected status, but lacked the ballot. She proposed universal suffrage and vowed to fight the idea of the Black male being given suffrage before women received the same. The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all citizens the right to vote, regardless of race, but did not include voting rights for women. He tried to persuade her to support its ratification. The amendment was eventually ratified in 1870.
As an African-American woman I appreciate the collective efforts of individuals like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass and each election cycle I celebrate their stubbornness and tenacity by exercising my right to vote. California goes to the polls next Tuesday for our statewide primary election and here in the Inland area we have some very important decisions to make. I suggest you study the candidates and the issues. Identify who and what will make our communities better places for all our residents. Who is more concerned with the betterment of the community and not themselves? Who has a proven record of genuine community service? And who will put the community’s needs before their own? The polls are powerful places. They have the power to transform communities and elevate our quality of life. If you haven’t returned your ballot already, don’t forget next Tuesday to exercise your right…and vote.