William Still and The Underground Railroad

In 1872 William Still published The Underground Railroad, a book describing the accounts of African Americans who had escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad.  Still, an influential leader in the abolitionist movement, provided first hand assistance to hundreds of people escaping slavery.  The Underground Railroad is notable because it is the only first person history of the Underground Railroad written and published by an African American.

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Frederick Douglass, The 15th Amendment, and White Women’s Racism in the Suffrage Movement

Abolitionists and suffragists shared activist spaces as early as the mid-19th century. However, though members often overlapped, shared goals and spoke to the same crowds, talks of the 15th Amendment caused rifts in each movement after the Civil War. 

Women’s rights activists like Angelina and Sarah Grimke, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton got their start in abolition. Mott helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society, of which women made up a significant percentage. They formed local women-only branches including the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, notable for its promotion of racial and gender equality and inclusion of Black women as leaders and members. 

Additionally, some well-known abolitionists like Gerrit Smith and Frederick Douglass voiced support for the women’s rights movement. Douglass spoke at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and was one of 32 men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments there. In 1866 he co-founded the American Equal Rights Association alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The organization demanded universal suffrage in the United States. 

However, supporting universal suffrage eventually proved a daunting and dangerous task for Black men, whom Douglass argued faced prejudice and violence that made their need for the vote more urgent. Though he never abandoned support for women’s suffrage, Douglass began to fight for the passage of the 15th Amendment, which aimed to enfranchise men of all races, but not women. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, Douglass wholeheartedly supported a new amendment meant to enfranchise women and thanked women’s rights activists for their support of Black liberation. In 1888, he spoke before the International Council of Women, in Washington, D.C.: 

“All good causes are mutually helpful. The benefits accruing from this movement for the equal rights of woman are not confined or limited to woman only. They will be shared by every effort to promote the progress and welfare of mankind everywhere and in all ages. It was an example and a prophecy of what can be accomplished against strongly opposing forces, against time-hallowed abuses, against deeply entrenched error, against worldwide usage, and against the settled judgment of mankind, by a few earnest women, clad only in the panoply of truth, and determined to live and die in what they considered a righteous cause.”

Despite Douglass’s steadfast support of women’s enfranchisement, his support for the 15th Amendment felt like a betrayal to white suffragists. Established alliances between abolitionists and suffragists fell to pieces, and many white women who got their start in abolition voiced disdain for the nation’s prioritization of Black enfranchisement. 

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The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)’s Radical Activism

In April of 1960, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) emerged as an organization for young Black activists, particularly those who were participating in student-led sit-ins at segregated lunch counters across the Southeast. 

Its founder Ella Baker, formerly employed with the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), believed that SCLC did not allow enough space for Black women and was out of touch with younger, more radical Black activists. Baker intended the Committee as a way to implement direct-action challenges to segregation and voter suppression in the U.S., and it eventually grew to be one of the most radical branches of the civil rights movement (its members were known within the civil rights movement as the “shock troops of the revolution”). Her work for the NAACP in the 1940s provided SNCC with a network of activists, including Bob Moses and Amzie Moore. With help from Moses and Moore, SNCC organized its first Voter Registration Project in the summer of 1960. 

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New Exhibit on Intersectional Feminism Now on Display

A new exhibit in the Maryland Room celebrates Black and Women’s History Months. Two cases showcase works by and about black women, including essays, poetry, and black student newspapers. They feature civil rights icons like Angela Davis, Pauli Murray, Maya Angelou, and Shirley Chisholm. 

Another case explores intersectional feminism as a whole. It includes documents by and about lesbian and trans women, disabled women, Native American and Chicana women, working class women, older women, and women from developing countries. 

What is intersectional feminism? Put simply, intersectional feminism emphasizes the fact that all women have different experiences and identities. People are often disadvantaged by more than one source of oppression: their race, class, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality may affect their experience as a woman. Intersectionality explores how multiple identities interact with each other, especially within the frameworks of oppression and marginalization. 

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African-Americans in the Early Labor Movement

DYK that labor unions did not allow African-Americans to become members back in the day? Being a member of a union was important to be able to bargain for workers’ rights and fight against the discrimination that black workers faced. Many skilled black workers sought to join unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) between 1881 and 1915. But, white craft union members, who were primarily affiliated with the AFL, were afraid of the competition and didn’t allow African Americans to join. On the other hand, industrial unions were more accepting of black workers.

The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) union members pose with locomotive firemen, ca. 1940. AFL-CIO Photographic Print Collection (RG96-001)

Who were early allies?

The Knights of Labor, the AFL until 1915, the United Mine Workers of America, the International Longshoreman’s Union, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Some black workers allowed to join:

The Teamsters, the Cigar Makers, the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, the Carpenters, and the Printers.

Very few black workers allowed to join:

The Pressmen, the Lithographers, the Photo-Engravers, the Iron Steel and Tin Workers, the Molders, the Pattern Makers, the Glass Workers, the Boot and Shoe Workers, and the Wood Workers

For more information about the relationship of the civil rights movement and the labor movement, visit our exhibit “For Liberty, Justice, and Equality: Unions Making History in America” in person or online or email us at askhornbake@umd.edu.


Jen Eidson is a Special Collections Processing Archivist in the University of Maryland Libraries.

Celebrate Black History Month in Special Collections

Typically during this month we focus on national figures of African descent. But we can also focus on local figures. These represent the front line of any struggle. Dr. King made a magnificent speech on the mall 30 years ago. But suppose no one showed up? The Million Man March focus for many was Minister Farakhan. But the real heroes were the hundreds of thousands who stood all day unified and disciplined.”

Taylor, P. “Passing the Torch.” UMD Black Faculty and Staff Association Newsletter. Vol. 6 No. 1. February 1996. UPUB B5.005, University Archives, Special Collections, University Libraries.

The display case in the Maryland Room features two UMD yearbooks and some items from Leon Washington Condol's papers.

The display case in the Maryland Room features two UMD yearbooks and some items from Leon Washington Condol’s papers.

Delve deeper into history with a monthly display in Hornbake Library’s Maryland Room! This month’s display celebrates Black History Month and recognizes the voices of Leon Washington Condol and his family.

Mr. Condol’s great grandmother, Mary Ann Cord, suffered slavery and separation from her children; the collection records her reunion with her youngest son, and her employment with Samuel Clemens. Louise Washington Condol carried on the history of grandmother Mary Ann Cord and passed this heritage to her son, Leon Washington Condol. He and his wife, Virginia, experienced the racial prejudices of their own times.

The Maryland Room also displays two yearbooks:

  • a 1952 edition of the Terrapin with a photo of Hiram Whittle, the first African-American undergraduate at UMD, and
  • a 1959 edition showing the senior photo of Elaine Johnson, the first female African-American to graduate from UMD.

Hiram Whittle, the first African-American undergraduate at UMD, is photographed with his dormmates (bottom-left photo).

Hiram Whittle, the first African-American undergraduate at UMD, is photographed with his dormmates (bottom-left photo).