Sojourner Truth Speech

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Sojourner Truth Speech

Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?"

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth.jpg
Sojourner Truth, ca. 1864.

Introduction for Sojourner Truth's speech delivered in 1851 at Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio.
 
Sojourner Truth delivered her best-known speech in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention. The speech has become known as "Ain't I a Woman?"

 

"Ain't I a woman?" is Sojourner Truth's most recognized speech.  She delivered it at a women's rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851.  There has been some dispute about not only what she said at the convention, but the convention’s response.  According to Frances D. Gage, who published the speech in 1863, Truth encountered hissing and hostility as she began to speak.  But according to Carleton Mabee, Gage's account is not consistent with other reports written immediately after the speech.  Mabee contends that Truth did not encounter hostility.  In fact, according to numerous newspaper accounts, “the audience received her well.”  Mabee also asserts that while Gage accurately reported some of what Truth said, she embellished other parts.  Namely, Truth's repetition of the famous phrase "Ain't I a woman." Instead, Mabee asserts that Gage most likely added this phrase, since it was not documented in any news story covering the convention, or in any other speeches that Truth made later. Regardless, it was a landmark speech.  The following is the text of her famous speech.

 
"Ain't I a Woman?"

The speech as shown here has been revised from the 19th century dialect in which Truth spoke.
 
"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 five 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 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."
 
--Sojourner Truth

Recommended Reading: Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. Description: Though she was born into slavery and subjected to physical and sexual abuse by her owners, Sojourner Truth, who eventually fled the South for the promise of the North, came to represent the power of individual strength and perseverance. She championed the disadvantaged--black in the South, women in the North--yet spent much of her free life with middle-class whites, who supported her, yet never failed to remind her that she was a second class citizen. Slowly, but surely, Sojourner climbed from beneath the weight of slavery, secured respect for herself, and utilized the distinction of her race to become not only a symbol for black women, but for the feminist movement as a whole.

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Recommended Reading: When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection (Dover Thrift Editions). Description: More than 2,000 interviews with former slaves, who, in blunt, simple language, provide often-startling first-person accounts of their lives in bondage. Includes some of the most detailed, compelling, and engrossing life histories in the Slave Narrative Collection, a project funded by the U.S. Government. An illuminating source of information.

 

Recommended Reading: Uncle Tom's Cabin (Wordsworth Classics), by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Author). Description: Edited and with an Introduction and Notes by Dr Keith Carabine, University of Kent at Canterbury. Uncle Tom's Cabin is the most popular, influential and controversial book written by an American. Stowe's rich, panoramic novel passionately dramatizes why the whole of America is implicated in and responsible for the sin of slavery, and resoundingly concludes that only 'repentance, justice and mercy' will prevent the onset of 'the wrath of Almighty God!'.

 

Recommended Viewing: Slavery and the Making of America (240 minutes), Starring: Morgan Freeman; Director: William R. Grant. Description: Acclaimed actor Morgan Freeman narrates this compelling documentary, which features a score by Michael Whalen. Underscoring how slavery impacted the growth of this country's Southern and Northern states; the series examines issues still relevant today. The variety of cultures from which the slaves originated provided the budding states with a multitude of skills that had a dramatic effect on the diverse communities. From joining the British in the Revolutionary War, to fleeing to Canada, to joining rebel communities in the U.S. the slaves sought freedom in many ways, ultimately having a far-reaching effect on the new hemisphere they were forced to inhabit. AWARDED 5 STARS by americancivilwarhistory.org

 

Recommended Reading: Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America (Simon & Schuster) (February 5, 2008) (Hardcover). Description: In 1858, Abraham Lincoln was known as a successful Illinois lawyer who had achieved some prominence in state politics as a leader in the new Republican Party. Two years later, he was elected president and was on his way to becoming the greatest chief executive in American history. What carried this one-term congressman from obscurity to fame was the campaign he mounted for the United States Senate against the country's most formidable politician, Stephen A. Douglas, in the summer and fall of 1858. Lincoln challenged Douglas directly in one of his greatest speeches -- "A house divided against itself cannot stand" -- and confronted Douglas on the questions of slavery and the inviolability of the Union in seven fierce debates. As this brilliant narrative by the prize-winning Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo dramatizes, Lincoln would emerge a predominant national figure, the leader of his party, the man who would bear the burden of the national confrontation. Continued below... 

Of course, the great issue between Lincoln and Douglas was slavery. Douglas was the champion of "popular sovereignty," of letting states and territories decide for themselves whether to legalize slavery. Lincoln drew a moral line, arguing that slavery was a violation both of natural law and of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. No majority could ever make slavery right, he argued. Lincoln lost that Senate race to Douglas, though he came close to toppling the "Little Giant," whom almost everyone thought was unbeatable. Guelzo's Lincoln and Douglas brings alive their debates and this whole year of campaigns and underscores their centrality in the greatest conflict in American history. The encounters between Lincoln and Douglas engage a key question in American political life: What is democracy's purpose? Is it to satisfy the desires of the majority? Or is it to achieve a just and moral public order? These were the real questions in 1858 that led to the Civil War. They remain questions for Americans today.

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