because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sarah Remond

When Sarah Remond and her sister passed an exam that got them admitted to Salem High School in Massachusetts in 1835 and the girls were pushed out only a week later because they were Black, her free Black father (who was born in Curacao) pushed back until they were readmitted. Salem was, after all, a center of abolitionist and Underground Railroad activity. But however well-read and socially savvy Remond was -- and even after she became a major abolitionist orator and fundraiser -- no matter where she went in the United States, she suffered racial insults, discrimination and harassment. And she never got used to it.

On one occasion when she was twenty-seven, Remond and several others went to see a production of the opera Don Pasquale at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston. When she flatly refused to sit in a segregated area designated for "colored" people, an over-zealous policeman made the mistake of pushing her down a flight of stairs. Furious, Remond sued in a court of law and was awarded $500. But such incidents simply fueled her frustration and the passion with which she presented the case against White Supremacy before whoever came to hear her speak.

Finally, she reached a status so respected among her abolitionist peers that she was asked to take her message to the people of Europe. Remond was initially reticent to do it because her lack of formal education had always made her feel less than adequate. Besides, she said, "No matter how I go, I know the spirit of prejudice will meet me."

What actually happened in Europe, however, was that Remond was a huge and highly respected hit, who was treated by the White Europeans much as they treated each other. Additionally, Remond used the opportunity to gain the formal education she had always dreamed of achieving, ultimately becoming a doctor in Italy and then marrying at the age of fifty to settle down happily for the rest of her life there. In-your-face women are sometimes unsure of themselves at first, but if they just keep putting one foot in front of the other, they have a way of winding up on top.

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