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Jackie Royster's Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women

We were glad to hear from our good friend Jackie Royster today, in her comment on the “Finding Home at School” entry. Jackie and her colleagues at the Bread Loaf Graduate School of English have been great allies in our work.

Jackie’s writings have also made an important contribution to our understanding of the theory and history of writing from critical and historical perspectives.

Three years ago, our Advanced Placement English class at Douglass High School was offered in collaboration with an upper level English class at Tulane University. The students in Professor Rebecca Mark’s class traveled downtown to our classroom, where we co-taught every Monday afternoon a three-hour seminar on Violence and Lynching in Southern Literature to 15 Tulane students and 12 Douglass students.

One of the books that we studied was Ida B. Wells' Mob Rule in New Orleans, edited by Jackie.

And for the last seven years we have studied closely Jackie’s groundbreaking book, Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. We recommend this book for all writing, social studies, and social justice teachers. This spring, some of our female students are working with long-time SAC collaborator Artspot Productions on an original theater piece that will combine student narratives and their study of Traces of a Stream and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

So in appreciation for Jackie, we are sharing on today’s blog an essay that Maria Hernandez, who was in the fall 2004 AP English class at Douglass, a writing developed from her reading of Traces of a Stream and included in The Long Ride, the book we are featuring this week on the blog.

The Courage of a Woman:
Maria Stewart (1803-1879)

Maria Hernandez

After her good friend David Walker was killed for circulating a pamphlet condemning slave owners for their evil and hypocrisy, Maria Stewart started an odyssey writing and speaking about the same things. From 1831 to 1834, her essays were published in The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper as well as in her own books. But by 1834, the men in power decided that writing and speaking were not proper roles for women in society. She worked the rest of her life as a school teacher, so we know she was still reaching many people.

Also what she said and wrote has reached a few of our most important African American women and even me in 2004.

I admire that she pushed to have her say and refused to bite her lip while her people were still scared of hearing the whip. Imagine having your best friend killed for writing against white power and then turning around and walking into the fire yourself. Even though she wrote her essays in a humble tone, she had a strong will to be heard; and that is why her words never came out a mumble. She shared stories of other women who spoke out before her.

In her essay, “Mrs. Stewart’s Farewell Address” she showed people that women have always stood and said something when it is in dire need of being said. She also said that she was an instrument of God. I guess you can say she had a higher purpose. Maria Stewart saw an opportunity and used it well—by what many of us can tell a great element. That’s what she was. Because of her we have Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Forten, and many, many more. Reading about her has even made me begin thinking about writing not just about my life and family but also about injustice in society. Today things are very different from the way they were before, and I’d like to think she had something to do with it.

There is no way I can repay you for your deed. All I can say is, “Thank you, Mrs. Stewart, and may you rest in peace.”

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