The Analysis of Stewart’s Address at the African Masonic Hall Essay Example


Despite never having the privilege to receive formal education, Maria Stewart became a God appointed preacher and intellectual, in her own right. Her rhetorical use of God and religion allows Stewart to become an effective preacher as well as lecturer and public speaker, advocating for Black Americans to take back what is rightfully theirs in the United States; opportunity and educational rights. This is mostly seen within Maria Stewart’s speech Address at the African Masonic Hall (1833), where she advocates and urges the black communities of the United States to be fearless and brave men, to fight for a formal education and become more respectable, and through their own efforts, uplift their own communities and historical presence.

Stewart also proves to be in conversation with other philosophers before her, by reclaiming Egyptian history as African history. Despite her influential speech to ultimately be in harmony with white Americans, Stewart brushes over the oppressive nature of institutional racism, and puts most of the blame on the behaviors of black people for their own oppression. Stewart argues for respectability politics to help uplift black communities, while forgetting to understand the systemic racism that takes place in the United States, and placing the blame on these forces as well, for the oppression of black people.

Section 1: Summary and Analysis

Maria Stewart’s address, to mainly black men, argues an important point; Black people have a strong relationship to God and Egypt that reflects why they should be fearless in front of the white man. She reattaches Egyptian history to African history, to give black people inspiration to become brave and fight for equality. While giving this address, Stewart seems to be in conversation with philosophers such as Georg Hegel, who argues that black Americans never had a successful history. In the end, Stewart ultimately advocates for racial harmony, wanting black and white people to be able to coexist and uplift each other, without their being the need to create a superiority complex.

Stewart argues that black Americans should be fearless in the name of white people, and that they should look towards their relationship to God and religion to find this courage and bravery that lives inside of them. She starts by stating that black people should have this deep seeded anger towards the United States and white people because of the injustices placed on black people. Stewarts says that, “African rights and liberty is a subject that ought to fire the breast of every man of color…” (90). This anger and fire should drive the black community to do better for themselves, despite the oppression and racism that has plagued them. She wants black men to come forward and prove themselves, to not be discouraged and take their rightful place in society. Stewart then uses God and religion to help spark a courageous and rightful fight within black men, in stating that “Or has it been for the fear of offending the whites? If it has… throw off your fearfulness, and come forth in the name of the Lord, and in the strength of the God of Justice, and make yourselves useful and active members of society” (91). God will ultimately give black people the strength to become these active members of society, despite racism, because it is just and right.

Stewart also uses the successful history of Egypt to reveal why black Americans should be even more fearless in the face of white supremacy. She points to Egypt to show that, black people were able to be successful and do great things, leading the world in technology and intelligence, to prove that this can happen again. Stewart doesn’t believe there are enough, or even any, prominent black figures during her time. She searches for the “man of science, or a philosopher, or an able statesman, or a counselor of law… lecturers on natural history, and critics in useful knowledge” (91).

She then points to Africa, presumably Egypt, to inspire a desire to better their community and become these great thinkers. She states that “History informs us that we sprung from one of the most learned nations of the whole earth… the parent of science; Africa was once the resort for sages and legislators of other nations… and the most illustrious men in Greece flocked thither for instruction” (92). There was a time when Africa did have the power and knowledge that other nations did not, and even European nations look towards Africa for guidance. Black people’s strong ties to Africa, and thus Egypt, proves within itself to be enough inspiration for Black people to carry out the legacy of their lost history, and rise to their ancestors. She utilizes the rich history of Egypt to give inspiration to her black community to become a leading example of excellence in the United States.

It is here that Stewart engages in conversation with those who believe that black people never had a great and successful history. Stewart believes that black people can look towards Egypt as a guide for successful living, because Egyptian history is black/African history. Comparing Stewart to thinkers such as Georg Hegel, who separates Egyptian history from African history, it is clear that Stewart is fighting this notion. Hegel believes that Africa has no history and is at the first stage of development, whereas Egypt is a thriving country so it cannot be a part of the African history. In stating that Egypt is not Africa, Hegel is essentially taking away an important part of African and Black history that Stewart deems as essential for later success of Black communities.

Stewart, in this address, reattaches Egypt to its rightful African history and uses its history and success as a guide for black people to look to, and strive to achieve again. She challenges Hegel’s beliefs, and even disproves them to, once again, give Black people the inspiration, courage, and knowledge to fight for their rights and to rise as a great people. Unlike popular beliefs, Stewart reminds her black brothers and sisters that their history was a history that was great and that these achievements and prosperity can continue to occur if black Americans become more respectable and get a formal education.

Section 2: Argument

Maria Stewart, in her “Address at the African Masonic Hall”, goes on to discuss how African Americans, and the black community, can uplift themselves to become better as a race. Stewart argues that black uplift must come from and be executed by black people. Essentially, that gambling away money and partying all the time will not aid in the progression of black opportunity and equality. She reveals two important factors that will help black people uplift themselves as well as their surrounding communities; respectability and formal education. She believes that with a formal education, opportunity will present itself and help in fighting racism in the United States. Maria Stewart, rather than challenge the white society's values, is using the notion of respectability as a fair and reasonable way for black people to transcend racism but does not prove to be completely aware of larger white institutions that take part in the overall oppression of black people.

Despite acknowledging and taking back ownership of the great and successful history of Egypt, Stewart also acknowledges the lack of prosperity faced by the black community during her time. She states that “But it is of no use for us to boast that we sprung from this learned and enlightened nation, for this day a thick mist of moral gloom hangs over millions of our race” (92). According to Stewart, black people cannot depend on their history, as a race, to get out of the pits of racism, but must become active participants in their own success. She then goes on to say that, “Our condition as a people has been low for hundreds of years, and it will continue to be so, unless, by true piety and virtue, we strive to regain that which we have lost” (92). Stewart acknowledges the plight of her people, and eventually gives, what she believes to be, an appropriate plan to black uplift; respectability.

Her engagement with respectability encompasses two aspects; looking towards whiteness to follow in example of how to live and formal education. In the same way that respectability politics is rooted in the policing of actions of one’s own race, so does Stewart police her own black community for actions that she believes lead to failure. She starts by stating that she wants the men to “flee the gambling board and the dance-hall… I do not consider dancing as criminal within itself, but it is astonishing to me that our young men are so blind to their own interest and the future welfare… as to spend their hard earnings for this frivolous amusement” (94). She says this, as if gambling and dancing are the root to racism, and that stopping this behavior will start to end racism.

To add to becoming more respectable, Stewart urges her community to enter into temperance societies. Although Stewart may be saying this to not give white society a reason to discriminate, she should really be questioning why drinking or gambling is reason enough to discriminate against black people in the United States. Again, rather than question societal norms, Stewart points to whiteness and behavior of her white counterparts, as moral and right. She questions her community with, “Can you bear to see the whites arising in honor and respectability, without endeavoring to grasp after that honor and respectability also?” (94). Stewart forgets to acknowledge that this perceived “honor and respectability” of whites was manufactured through racist systems put in place by white society. She is trying to persuade her community to rise to white standards, but without challenging the status quo in this section, she is reinforcing respectability as the only way to rise out of racism.

In following with her aim to look towards whiteness in order to succeed, Stewart then pushes the importance of education as being the right and acceptable way to become less oppressed by white people. “Let our money… be appropriated for schools and seminaries of learning for our children and youth. We ought to follow the example of whites in this respect” (95). Although education will aid the black community, because they have been deprived of it in so long, Stewart does not seem to blame institutions of whiteness as to why education was not received but, rather, points to their perceived success as something to emulate. She seems to be blaming black people for this injustice, as if gambling, dancing, and inappropriate behaviors have always been the reason for a lack of proper education.

The only time she gives any implication of larger institutional oppression at play, is when she states that “had we as a people receive one half the early advantages the whites have received…” (95). Despite only briefly mentioning this, Stewart does not put enough blame on these perceived “advantages” but places a larger emphasis on black people not doing enough. She even later states that, had her black ancestors proven themselves to white men, through intellect and brilliance, the black race would not have been oppressed. She too often points to policing black behavior to fix racism, rather than discuss institutions set up against black people in the United States and working on destroying them (96).

Conclusion

Maria Stewart’s “Address at the African Masonic Hall” proves to be an important work on race of its time. Without receiving a formal education, Stewart understands race relations in a more nuanced way as compared to some of her philosophical counterparts. Many of the points in this address revealed that Stewart was well ahead of her time but, also, displays the unawreness of her beliefs. Her arguments for respectability politics, by policing black behavior, almost comes across as victim blaming, without placing most of the fault on white society. Despite this, her claims do show that both sides, white and black, have work to be done when it comes to the eventual racial harmony that Stewart hopes one day will happen.

 

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