A Juneteenth “Tea for Two”

At Green Spring Gardens, friendships have been forged over afternoon tea, a social ritual that has been connecting people for centuries. A bronze sculpture named “Let’s Have Tea” in Rochester, New York, depicts two unlikely friends bonding over cups of tea and provides food for thought on Juneteenth.

The sculpture features fugitive slave turned abolitionist Frederick Douglass and women’s suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony in thoughtful conversation over a shared pot of tea. It is an imaginary, yet plausible, scenario for the two activists who were friends and neighbors, and it reminds us that the struggles for racial justice and gender equality have always been intertwined.

Douglass and Anthony met in the late 1840s and worked closely for many years, united in their commitment to the anti-slavery and suffrage movements. They were close in age, but in many ways fundamentally different — he witty and handsome, she sober and austere. Sometimes their overlapping goals diverged, and the pair clashed. The 1869 passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which granted Black men but no women the right to vote, caused a serious rift. He supported a more urgent need for African American enfranchisement. She violently disagreed. Though he remained a self-described “woman’s rights man,” the friendship suffered, and she moved her focus from abolitionism to women’s suffrage.

Neither Douglass nor Anthony lived to see universal voting rights, but the Fifteenth Amendment would become the basis for the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, giving women the right to vote. More differences and disagreements between the pair were to follow, but they eventually reconciled, and each continued to be an outspoken supporter of the other’s cause.

As statues immortalized in “Let’s Have Tea,” what are the longtime allies and adversaries saying to each other across the tea table? We can only imagine. Anthony is speaking while Douglass listens thoughtfully, and there is clearly no acrimony between them. Rather there appears to be empathy and solidarity.

The sculpture depicts the role of tea drinking as a powerful, yet purely symbolic catalyst for reform. Yet, tea has played a role in influencing social change. Eighteenth and nineteenth century tea parties provided women with socially acceptable venues to voice anti-slavery and pro-suffrage views and to formulate action plans. Tea wares were designed to express activist sentiments, like this one on a 1760 “Abolition Teapot” by Josiah Wedgwood & Sons:

Health to the sick

Honor to the brave

Success to the lover

And freedom to the slave

Tearoom businesses that hosted abolitionist and suffrage fundraisers were established by women, among them Black women who were often excluded from mainstream efforts but took this path to female entrepreneurism to promote suffrage and civil rights.   

Ironically, the tea trade was also responsible for boosting the slave trade. The growing taste for sweetened tea fueled a demand for African slaves to work on sugar plantations in North and South America and the Caribbean. Today, tea workers in many countries continue to be exploited and marginalized by the industry.

This “tea for two” between Douglass and Anthony gives us hope that very different people can talk past their differences to support common goals. It reminds us that racial equality and gender equality are inseparable. It should also remind us that, on both fronts, we still have far to go.

Author Debbie Waugh is the Site Historian at Green Spring Gardens.

Educational afternoon tea programs are offered year-round at the 1784 historic house at Green Spring Gardens. Lectures explore a range of history topics, including how tea has impacted social change.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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