Essay: Remembering William Still and his fight for equality
Still rose from his impoverished beginnings on his parents’ farm in Burlington County, New Jersey, to a stature and wealth unique to Philadelphia. His success as a businessman enabled philanthropy which included funds to educate black children and take care of black elders. Still 1872 delivered on the Underground Railroad is widely regarded as one of the best publications on the subject.
Ironically, Still’s progress against white racism sometimes elicited bitter reactions from some blacks who were suspicious of his influential power and jealous of his prestigious wealth. Always responded to black antagonists the same way he faced white opponents: with well-reasoned arguments delivered through impassioned speeches and eloquently written essays.
When some lambasted Still in 1874 for suggesting that black people in Philadelphia should end blind loyalty to the city’s hostile municipal administration in favor of a progressive Democratic candidate for mayor, his moving speeches and letters won converts across the country.
Attacks to suppress black voting rights have ravished Still’s time, as have suppression actions today. A little-known facet of Still’s civil rights activism involved her efforts to help secure the right to vote for black women, then rejected by the white-led women’s suffrage movement. In Still’s day, only men could vote, and black men often encountered violence during the vote.