A BRIGHTER COMING DAY: REDISCOVERING FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER; Congressional Record Vol. 157, No. 21
(Extensions of Remarks - February 10, 2011)

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E196]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




   A BRIGHTER COMING DAY: REDISCOVERING FRANCES ELLEN WATKINS HARPER

                                 ______
                                 

                           HON. CHAKA FATTAH

                            of pennsylvania

                    in the house of representatives

                      Thursday, February 10, 2011

  Mr. FATTAH. Mr. Speaker, this month in Philadelphia, in the midst of 
Black History Month and on the cusp of Women's History Month, we will 
be celebrating the centennial of the death of Frances Ellen Watkins 
Harper--a great and talented woman of our city and our Nation.
  Frances E. W. Harper, born September 28, 1825, was a poet, novelist, 
lecturer, advocate and activist for the towering causes of 19th century 
America: the abolition of slavery and the freedom of all people, 
especially her fellow African Americans. She was the contemporary and 
equal of such figures as William Still, Octavius V. Catto, Lucretia 
Mott, the Fortens, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass (who 
published her work).
  She was a woman of such bravery that she stayed with and comforted 
Mary Brown, wife of John Brown, in the weeks leading up to his 
execution. And more: She wrote to John Brown, in a letter addressed 
``Dear Friend'' and smuggled into his jail cell: ``In the name of the 
young girl sold from the warm clasp of a mother's arms to the clutches 
of a libertine or profligate, in the name of the slave mother, her 
heart rocked to and fro by the agony of her mournful separations, I 
thank you, that you have been brave enough to reach out your hands to 
the crushed and blighted of my race.''
  To her list of character traits, one rises above all others: Frances 
E. W. Harper was a fighter.
  In the century since her passing, on February 22, 1911, at age 85, 
Frances E. W. Harper's achievements may have faded in memory for many, 
but her luster has never dimmed. The lessons and examples of her life 
have held special meaning for my family and me, and for Philadelphians 
who honor history while vowing never to repeat it.
  Now, in this momentous time, comes ``A Brighter Coming Day: 
Rediscovering Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.'' A partnership of nearly 
20 organizations and foundations, brought together by Larry Robin and 
the Moonstone Arts Center, will spotlight her achievements with a dozen 
events across the City of Philadelphia between February 20 and 27.
  For the benefit of my colleagues in the House and for all Americans 
who may be ``Rediscovering''--or simply discovering--this amazing 
woman, here is a primer:
  Frances Ellen Watkins was born of free black parents in Baltimore in 
1825, orphaned at a young age but raised by an aunt and uncle in 
comfortable circumstances. Her talents and potential were evident from 
the start. By age 20 she had published her first collection of poetry, 
``Forest Leaves.'' In the 1840s and 1850s, as a young abolitionist, she 
traveled and lectured widely--and sent the proceeds back home to fund 
the Underground Railroad.
  Soon after moving to Philadelphia, not yet 30 years of age, she 
refused to give up her seat on the city's shamefully segregated horse-
drawn trolley system. It was an act of defiance and illegality that 
helped set in motion the ultimate desegregation of the trolleys. A 
brave and impressive act in any time, this was when slavery was still 
legal. In 1854, she was ``Rosa Parks'' a century before Rosa Parks.
  Following the Civil War, as a widow raising four children, in a time 
when even the most dedicated advocates for civil rights for African 
Americans were cool to women's empowerment, Frances E. W. Harper in 
1866 delivered a fierce speech before the National Women's Rights 
Convention. Then she headed south to spend four years lecturing in 
Freedmen's schools in the often hostile environment of Reconstruction. 
Three decades later, still advocating women's rights as well as those 
of African Americans, she was elected vice president of the National 
Association of Colored Women.
  The writer's muse never left her. In 1892, at age 67, Frances E. W. 
Harper published the greatest of her three novels, ``Iola Leroy.''
  Throughout her life, Frances E. W. Harper was a pillar of temperance 
and faith, first at Philadelphia's historic Mother Bethel in the 
African Methodist Episcopal tradition in which she was raised, and 
later at the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.
  The saga of Frances E. W. Harper is a Philadelphia story, and for me, 
a personal one. It has been the tradition in my family to name the 
first-born girl Frances Ellen in her honor. And so this great woman of 
the 19th century has been an inspiration to great women of today--among 
them my mother, Falaka Fattah, born Frances Ellen, and my daughter, 
Frances Ellen Fattah, a young lawyer specializing in education issues. 
My parents, Falaka and David Fattah, have been activists, community 
organizers and leaders, inspirational figures for generations of young 
people across Philadelphia. It is fitting that one of the 12 programs 
of ``Rediscovering,'' to be held on the exact anniversary of February 
22, is titled, ``Falaka Fattah and the Political Legacy of Frances 
Ellen Watkins Harper.''
  On February 20, I will be privileged to participate in the first 
program in this weeklong series. I will read from the work of Frances 
E. W. Harper and join my family in the ribbon cutting for her portrait 
by Leroy Forney, commissioned by and unveiled at the First Unitarian 
Church of Philadelphia.
  This week of tributes will raise Frances E. W. Harper's profile and 
forever stamp her upon the soul of Philadelphians of good will. The 
final event will be a graveside memorial at Eden Cemetery, Collingdale, 
Pennsylvania, where so many of Philadelphia's illustrious African 
Americans of the 19th and 20th century are interred. One of Frances E. 
W. Harper's earliest and most acclaimed poems, published in 1858, was 
``Bury Me in a Free Land.''

  I ask no monument, proud and high,
  To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
  All that my yearning spirit craves,
  Is bury me not in a land of slaves.

  Frances Ellen Watkins Harper has, indeed, a monument for us to gaze 
upon: her life's work, her character, an example to finish the work at 
hand--and in eternal peace, a dream and yearning fulfilled.

                          ____________________