that time in 1872 when a feminist and an escaped slave ran for president

In 1872, a woman ran for President of the United States with an escaped slave as her running mate.

Victoria Clafin suffered abuse at the hands of her father as a child.  He was a con man who pulled his daughter out of school when she was 11, and he was run out of town shortly after when he burned down his own home and tried to collect the insurance money.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in his grandmother’s shack. Though he never knew his father, it was believed that his owner had fathered him biologically, but because of his black skin, Frederick would be property rather than an heir. As a child, he witnessed slaves being whipped, interrogated, worked to death, sold, and murdered.

At age 14, Victoria met and soon married Canning Woodhull, a doctor twice her age, and she had two children, a son and a daughter, Byron and Zula Maude. Canning liked alcohol and women a bit too much, and Victoria divorced him. Though she later took a second husband, she later advocated for free love, the idea of having sex as the heart dictates, not strictly confined to marriage or commitment. She kept Canning’s late name, Woodhull. She saw a society where women either belonged to a man in marriage, or were ostracized for being divorced, and she loudly proclaimed that women should be given the right to own their own bodies and choices. She was jailed for speaking too loudly.

Frederick was sold to a new master, and the man’s kind wife taught him to read, but when his master found out, the lessons stopped, as it was believed that an educated slave was a dangerous one. Frederick taught himself to read after that, through guile and dedication, and he fell in love with the New Testament. He began teaching other slaves to read in Sunday School. At 16, he was given to another new master, who beat and whipped him regularly, promising to break him.

Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, opened their own stockbroking firm in 1870, and were hailed as “the Queens of Finance” as they coached their clients toward riches. Victoria used her money to start her own newspaper, which she ran for six years. Its primary purpose was spreading the message of feminism, and it advocated for legalization of prostitution, sex education, women’s suffrage, women’s right to choice, and spirituality, and it even printed Karl Marx’s Communism Manifesto. Victoria used her influence to expose a church leader’s marital affairs, a man who had advocated for monogamy and marriage over the pulpit.

In 1837, Frederick met a free black woman, Anna Murray, and fell in love. It took several months, but he ran away, risking his life, and escaped into the north to be free. He took Anna as his wife and they remained married for 44 years, and had five children. Frederick became a preacher, an abolitionist, and an author. His first book, about his time in slavery, became an international bestseller, and Frederick began traveling the world to speak about his experiences; he was still subjected to violence and hatred at times. He spoke loudly against the hypocrisy of Christianity in the South, Bible-reading men who prayed and paid tithes and then beat and raped and sold and killed their slaves under the protections of religion. He started a newspaper and began giving speeches, like one called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” He also advocated for women’s rights, and stayed very politically active through the Civil War.

Deciding to run for president, Victoria stood before Congress and argued eloquently that since all citizens were equal, women already had the right to vote. She ran on the ticket of the newly formed Equal Rights Party, and Frederick Douglass, through no initiative of his own, was voted as her running mate for Vice President. Ulysses S. Grant was elected president in 1872. Women would receive the right to vote approximately 50 years later, and the Civil Rights Movement would take place closer to 100 years later.

After the death of his wife Anna, Frederick took a second wife, Helen Pitts, a white feminist nearly 20 years younger than him, a union which caused much public scandal. He died in his late 70s, fighting for equal rights for others until his last breath. Before his death, he made peace with his original owner, the man believed to be his father.

Victoria lived into her 80s and lived overseas for a time, taking a third husband in England. She remained much quieter in her later years.

A black man, Barack Obama, was first elected president in 2008, and a woman, Hillary Clinton, was first put on a presidential ticket in 2016. Gender and race equality remain ever-present issues in today’s politics. But it was 1872 when a black man and a woman first teamed up, unwittingly, to run the country. We are long overdue.

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton as the Bachelorette

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At 6 am in a coffee shop, I overheard one of the best conversations ever, my fingers clacking nonchalantly on my keyboard to keep up.

Okay, picture it. Hillary Clinton. As the Bachelorette.

She’s already married.

No, no, like the show. Like the Bachelor, except when a girl is one it. The Bachelorette. 

Dude, she’s, like, 70.

Duh, I know. Come on, just hear me out. We all know she’s going to win the presidency. I mean, she’ll win the Democratic nomination, that’s what all the polls are saying. It’s gonna be close, but she’ll pull out on top and then everyone will vote for her over any of those Republican buffoons. And I mean, I don’t like Hillary. At all. But she’s gonna win and I’ll vote for her because she’s the least terrible choice.

I know, I know. I swear her whole campaign is like some whiny platform she built. ‘Look at me, I’ll Hillary Clinton, my husband was the president, so I should be the president, too. Oh yeah, I was Secretary of State, too, waaaaah.’ She drives me nuts. 

Yeah, me too. But listen to this, listen to this. After she wins, we hold a Bachelorette competition to figure out who her vice president is going to be. All the current presidential candidates will try to get her vote. And every week, she gives a rose to some guy who will end up crying as his career comes to an end, and they drive him off in some hearse.

That’s dumb. 

It’s brilliant! Hillary gives great facial expressions, she’ll be awesome. Each episode, she’ll go on some date. She can, like, hot air balloon with Ben Carson. They’ll be floating over the Earth and Carson could talk about how the Earth is really flat even though it looks round from the sky because that’s how God wants us to see the world. 

What? That doesn’t make sense.

I know, that’s the point. Carson has some whacked out theories. So Hillary hands him the rose and two guys come and put him in a straitjacket and pull him off to the crazy house.

Okay, yeah, I’d watch that. 

And then Chris Christie would take her to, like–oh! They could go bridge-jumping! In New Jersey! And he would be like non-stop talking about why he shut that bridge down that one time, and Hillary would give a classic look to the camera that’s almost an eye-roll. That guy is annoying as hell. 

Okay, calm down, man. You’re way too excited about this. 

It’s hilarious! Tell me you wouldn’t pay to see Donald Trump and Hillary on a date. 

This show would be way funnier if it was Trump as the Bachelor. That guy is funny.

Yeah, but that would mean we would have to elect Trump president.

No thanks. I’d move to Belgium and laugh at the Americans. 

So Trump and Hillary…

Okay, I’ll play. Trump would sit back over champagne and caviar and talk all about all of the beautiful women he’s been with. He’d be like, ‘I have dated some of the most beautiful women in the world and my daughter is the most gorgeous woman I have ever seen. They like me because I have money. But you can’t even keep your husband away from the interns. That’s why you should choose me, Hillary, because I would make you look good.’

Oh man, that’s golden! And–and they could go wig-shopping!

Okay, yeah, this is a fun idea.

So then… I don’t know, like… horse-back riding on the Bush ranch with Jeb, and–oh! Salsa-dancing with Marco Rubio! That would be awesome!

What about Carly Fiorina? It could be a hot lady candidate date. 

Why not? It’s 2016. Oh my god, they would hate each other so much. 

No one hates Hillary more than Bernie Sanders, though. They all pretend to respect and like each other, but you gotta know that they are just seething with hate. I mean, they both want to be president so effing bad and the other person is the one stopping them the most. So on their date, Bernie would be like ‘Hillary, congratulations on the nomination’ and he would look all happy but on the inside he is like ‘I hate you so much’ and she would be like ‘thank you, Bernie Sanders, you deserved it too’ but on the inside, she would be all ‘hahaha, I won, you crazy old man.’ You just know she and Obama were like that back in 2008. 

But in the end, she would totally pick Sanders as VP. 

That’s because the Republican candidates are all basically comic nook super villains. They are all ridiculous caricatures of humanity. She might as well be running up against Lex Luthor, Skeletor, the Joker, and, like, Dr. Doom. All ‘I’m going to rule the world!’ when really none of them have a chance. At all. 

I can’t think of even one single Democrat candidate besides Bernie and Hillary though. Weird. 

I–wait. Wasn’t there some guy named Chaffee? Oh, Martin O’Malley. What happened to that guy? He just disappeared. 

Yeah, he can’t be on our show. No one knows who he is.

We’ve totally got to pitch this idea. 

Man, we’d make a million. 

And it’d be tax deductible, right? I mean, it’s politics.

HiIlary Rodham Clinton

 

Man in a monkey cage

The sign read:

The African Pigmy, “Ota Benga.”

Age, 23 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches.
Weight, 103 pounds. Brought from the
Kasai River, Congo Free State, South Cen-
tral Africa, by Dr. Samuel P. Verner. Ex-
hibited each afternoon during September

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On September 8, 1906, the Bronx Zoo in New York City added a new exhibit, a small coffee-skinned African man named Ota Benga. Placed with the monkeys, the man had an open cage to sleep in. Delighted visitors came by the thousands, the tens of thousands, bringing their friends and children to see the African man. Many of the spectators believed him to be some sub-species of man, somewhere on the evolutionary scale between monkeys and human children. And the spectators didn’t just want to see the man, they wanted him to perform. They wanted to see him hunt, play with the orangutan, dance and climb trees. If he hid, they threw rocks against his cage to draw him out. If he sat, they yelled racial slurs and insults to spark him into action, something their children could clap over and tell their friends about later. “Dance, monkey, dance,” they seemed to yell as an adult man sat behind bars, listening to their unfamiliar foreign words, yet their intent all too easy to understand.

Word spread quickly, throughout the country and then internationally: the Americans had an African man on exhibit with monkeys. New York had been a free state long before the Civil War, seeing African American citizens as deserving of equality and equal rights. And now, decades after the Emancipation Proclamation, a man was in a cage.

It took them time to figure out what had happened, and language barriers, direct lies, poor record-keeping, and time have kept many of the details hidden.

The man who came to be known as Ota Benga grew up in the Congo, then under Belgian rule. Under harsh sanctions from the Belgian people, the Congolese tribes were exploited and forced into labor. Samuel Verner, who had served as a Christian missionary in the Congo previously, and who had also spent time in a mental institution, was sent to the Congo to acquire willing men to be brought to America to be put on display at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Benga was among them.

A bizarre series of events led to Benga being placed in the Museum of Natural History before he was placed on exhibit at the zoo, exploited and stared at.

Verner told story after story, each contradicting the others, in an effort to make himself sound heroic. He told how he had rescued Benga from slave traders, how Benga trusted only him, how Benga had asked to come to America and be placed on display. Yet in truth, Verner was a swindler and a liar. Not only had he fathered children with women while he was in Africa, he had racked up debts and exploited money. And Benga was not the first Congolese boy he had brought to the United States.

I learned about Benga only recently, when I chose a book about him at random off of a shelf. I read ravenously, devouring the words and images of this story that I had never heard before, these forgotten horrific moments of American history.

How could this have possibly happened, I wondered, in a country that is founded on Christian principles, equality of all men, and dignity of each person. And then I recalled the very founding of our country, a mix of declaring liberty from foreign powers while asserting our foreign power over the Native Americans with violence and blood; a mixture of welcoming foreigners, while building the country on the backs of foreign slaves.

The violent opposition of it all makes my head spin. We who consider ourselves the great democracy, founded on the principles of free speech and choice and religion, the greatest country in the world with equality and opportunity for all, priding ourselves on the American dream, yet we have entire presidential campaigns running on premises of refuting gay marriage, opposing women’s health care options, restricting immigration by building walls, and banning religious groups.

Ota Benga was a small man, but he was not a child nor did he have limited intellect. He had filed his teeth to fine points not because he was a cannibal or a savage, but because that was a custom among his tribe, a rite of passage for men. He communed with the monkeys in the exhibit not because he considered himself one of them, but because they were his only solace and support as the white Americans jeered.

After Benga was released from the zoo, he was taken in by an educated group of black Americans who gave him companionship and work and taught him the language. Benga lived among these citizens, whose ancestors had been forced from their homes to be slaves, belonging and yet not belonging; they had history in America, he was a refugee. It is believed Benga had lost a wife and children in the Congo, a result of cruel white men, before coming to America. He lived in relative isolation here for years, using an American-ized version of his name, Otto Bingo.

Until, in 1916, Benga found a gun and shot himself through the heart, a poetically tragic end to his story.

As I finish this story, and reflect, I’m left to wonder how we, as an evolving society of Americans… how much have we really changed?

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