52 Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883)

Josephine Acland, Payton Young, McKae Geromini, Abraham De Anda, and Amadou Kujabi

Truth’s carte de visite, which she sold to raise money.

Introduction

Sojourner Truth the women who changed it all. She was born Isabella Baumfree in the town of Swartekill, in Ulster County, New York. Her day of birth is unknown to this day, but historians think that she was born around 1779. She was born into slavery so not knowing her exact day of birth is common among slaves. She was one of as many as 12 other siblings. Her father James was captured and sold as a slave in modern day Ghana. Her mother on the other hand was already a slave in Guinea Africa. They were both sold to Colonel Hardenberg and taken to his plantation in New York. As a slave Sojourner truth grew up speaking Dutch. Sojourner Truth known as Belle at the time got separated from her parents at the age of 9. She was sold to a man named Johny Neely after the death of her previous owner. She remembers him as very harsh and violent.

In 1817 Sojourner Truth’s new owner made her marry a slave by the name of Thomas that marriage brought about a son and two daughters. On July 4th, 1827 New York was in the process of emancipating all slaves but before Truth got her freedom, she escaped with her infant daughter Sophia. After her escape she learned that her son peter was sold to a plantation owner in Alabama. She went to court and fought to her son to get out of the South and eventually she ended up winning and secured Peters freedom.

On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1844, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1850, Truth spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson. In 1851 Truth spoke her famous Ain’t I a women Speech at the Ohio Womens Rights Convention. One of her major projects was to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves. She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy landowners.

Truth kept fighting for womens rights and womens suffrage until old age caught up with her. She died in her home in Battle Creek Michigan on November 26, 1883. She is buried alongside her family at the Battle Creek Cemetery. Truth is remembered as one of the foremost leaders of the abolitionist movement and an early advocate of women’s rights.

Sojourner Truth’s speech entitled “Ain’t I a Woman?” is one of the most popular speeches by the famous abolitionist and woman’s rights activist, widely acclaimed for its voice of confidence and unyielding belief in all-inclusive Woman’s Rights.  The Speech tackles the issue of Woman’s rights by describing Woman’s Rights, not as something Woman do not have and are trying to gain, but something deserved all along that they have yet to receive. Truth presents herself on equal ground to the soil Men stand on, weakening this sense of masculinity Men often used to defend this conservative stance on the Woman Rights movements going on at the time. Truth uses the analogy of “pint and quart” to tackle the ideas of equality and equity and how they correlate to the movement and goals of Woman’s Rights Activism. Sojourner Truth and her speeches often portray much more intersectionality of race and gender compared to other works of abolitionists and feminists of that time, like Fredrick Douglass and Anne Bradstreet. Being voiced during the climax of slavery, Truth warns the white men of America of how cornered they are by not only the oppressed women of the states but the freed slaves of the movement.

What little people know of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” Speech given in 1851 is that it actually had 2 very different transcriptions, which the more popularized one being, well, formally incorrect. Sojourner Truth was Northerner, with a northern accent, yet the most popularized transcription was by Frances Dana Barker Gage, a white abolitionist at the time. Gage controversially transcribed Truth by using the voice of a southern black slave, even though she wasn’t. This was seen in a negative tone due to how it reinforced this single story narrative of slave culture. Unlike Gage, the original Transcription was much more true to the original speech, transcribed by Truth;s close friend, Rev. Marius Robinson. Robinson released this speech in a popular Anti-Slavery Newspaper, marking its first publishing to the masses.

This speech truly is a work of art from Truth and will be laid down as one of the most famous speeches in History. Due to the technology to record sound not being invented at the time of this speech, we won’t truly know exactly what was truly said on the day of Truth’s speech, nor her emotions while speaking of such a passionate subject for her. Nonetheless, the effect of Sojourner’s words and the change social change she sparked speaks for itself.

Sources:

“Sojourner Truth.” National Women’s History Museum, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sojourner-truth.

“Sojourner Truth’s Original ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ Speech.” The Sojourner Truth Project, www.thesojournertruthproject.com/.

 

“AIN’T I A WOMAN?” SPEECH (TRANSCRIBED BY REV. MARIUS ROBINSON)

June 21, 1851

May I say a few words? I want to say a few words about this matter.

I am a woman’s rights [sic].

I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man.

I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?

I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if  I can get it.

I am as strong as any man that is now.

As for intellect, all I can say is,  if women have a pint and man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full?

You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, for we cant take more than our pint’ll hold.

The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do.

Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better.

You will have your own rights, and they wont be so much trouble.

I cant read, but I can hear.

I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin.

Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.

The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right.

When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother.

And Jesus wept – and Lazarus came forth.

And how came Jesus into the world?

Through God who created him and woman who bore him.

Man, where is your part?

But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them.

But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, and he is surely between-a hawk and a buzzard.

“AIN’T I A WOMAN?” SPEECH (TRANSCRIBED BY FRANCES DANA GAGE)

April 23, 1863

Well, chillen, whar dar’s so much racket dar must be som’ting out o’kilter.

I tink dat, ’twixt de niggers of de South and de women at de Norf, all a-talking ’bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon.

But what’s all this here talking ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have de best place eberywhar.

Nobody eber helps me into carriages or ober mud-puddles, or gives me any best place.

-And ar’n’t I a woman?

Look at me.

Look at my arm.

I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me.

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

I could work as much as (c) eat as much as a man, (when (d) I could get it,) and bear de lash as well

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

I have borne thirteen chillen, and seen ’em mos’ all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard

-and ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout dis ting in de head.

What dis dey call it?

Dat’s it, honey.

What’s dat got to do with women’s rights or niggers’ rights?

If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have a little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as man ’cause Christ wa’n’t a woman.

Whar did your Christ come from?

Whar did your Christ come from?

From God and a woman.

Man had nothing to do with him.

If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all her one lone, all dese togeder ought to be able to turn it back and git it right side up again, and now dey is asking to, de men better let ’em.

Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me, and now ole Sojourner ha’n’t got nothin’ more to say.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you think the mention of Mary and Jesus is significant to Truth’s argument?
  2. How does Truth unveil the hypocrisy of white men and their treatment of women?
  3. Does Truth’s comparison of herself to a man, especially the “bear the lash” remark strengthen or weaken her argument? Why or why not?
  4. What does Truth compare “intellect” to and how is it relevant to her argument?
  5. Explain why or why not you agree with Truth when she says, “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.”
  6. Compare Gage’s and Robinson’s translations. Which translation seems to be a more accurate version of Truth’s speech? Why?

License

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Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature by Josephine Acland, Payton Young, McKae Geromini, Abraham De Anda, and Amadou Kujabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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