Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Woman Warrior: Sojourner Truth

A Brief History
Sojourner Truth was born a slave in 1797; she was bought and sold a number of times before gaining her freedom when New York emancipated slaves in 1827. Throughout her life, Truth was a dedicated abolitionist and suffragist. Upon learning of the illegal sale of her 5 year old son, she took the issue to court and became the first black woman to go to court against a white man and win the case, and thus her son. She worked alongside the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony. During the Civil War, she helped recruit black troops for the Union Army. In 1865, while working at the Freedman's Hospital (set up to treat former slaves) in Washington, Truth rode in the streetcars to help force their desegregation. In 1870, Truth tried to secure land grants from the federal government to former slaves, a project she pursued for seven years without success. While in Washington, D.C., she had a meeting with President Ulysses S. Grant in the White House and years earlier she had met with President Abraham Lincoln. In 1872, she returned to Battle Creek and tried to vote in the presidential election, but was turned away at the polling place.

Ain't I A Woman?
In 1851, Truth attended the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, OH where she delivered her famous speech Ain't I a Woman, a slogan she adopted from one of the most famous abolitionist images, that of a kneeling female slave with the caption "Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?"


by Sojourner Truth

Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

After more than a dozen years of campaigning, lobbying and fundraising, a bust of Sojourner Truth was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol. Fittingly it now stands in Emancipation Hall, but it is expected to be moved to a place of special honor in the Rotunda.

Learn more about this amazing woman at the Library of Congress.


mermaiden said...

What a life, and ain't she an amazing woman! I had painful goosebumps while reading this. Thank you for sharing her story and giving me a new perspective for this day.

AJ said...

Such a powerful post!