‘Why Sit Ye Here and Die?’
Maria W. Stewart (1803-1879) was a free born antislavery author and social justice campaigner who delivered inspirationally powerful speeches and wrote radical protest essays and tracts. Over her long lifetime, she wrote hard-hitting essays and delivered blistering orations in support of equal rights and in protest against all forms of white racism, persecution, and discrimination.
Extract from a speech by Maria W. Stewart, ‘Why Sit Ye Here and Die?’ (1832)
‘Why sit ye here and die?... If we sit here, we shall die. Come let us plead our cause before the whites: if they save us alive, we shall live—and if they kill us, we shall but die.
I have heard much respecting the horrors of slavery; but may Heaven forbid that the generality of my color throughout these United States should experience any more of its horrors than to be a servant of servants, or hewers of wood and drawers of water! Tell us no more of southern slavery; for with few exceptions, although I may be very erroneous in my opinion, yet I consider our condition but little better than that.
Yet, after all, methinks there are no chains so galling as the chains of ignorance—no fetters so binding as those that bind the soul, and exclude it from the vast field of useful and scientific knowledge. O, had I received the advantages of early education, my ideas would, ere now, have expanded far and wide; but, alas! I possess nothing but moral capability—no teachings but the teachings of the Holy spirit.
And such is the powerful force of prejudice. Let our girls possess what amiable qualities of soul they may; let their characters be fair and spotless as innocence itself; let their natural taste and ingenuity be what they may; it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants.
I can but die for expressing my sentiments; and I am as willing to die by the sword as the pestilence; for I and a true born American; your blood flows in my veins, and your spirit fires my breast.’