A slave getting an education in the 1800s was extremely unlikely. Slaves were usually kept working and were not allowed to learn how to read or write. Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 and died in 1883, having been a slave all her life. She gave three major speeches in her life, the literacies of which are debated. To determine literacy, one must first understand the term and how it resides in everyday life. Once it is clear what it means, then it is appropriate to look through her speeches and come to a conclusion.
The age of literature is older than many people think. All through history, people have created their own languages and types of communication. It changes throughout time, and there are many different types of communication. From that, we can determine that literacy is communication. To be literate is to have the ability to read, write, speak with proper grammar, and have an education—everything that forms communication and understanding of life's processes. Once defining the term, the speeches may be appropriately reviewed.
Sojourner Truth's speeches were mainly centered on women's rights. She would present herself in a civilized manner in front of the crowd and speak her mind to others. In one of her speeches, she mentioned something interesting: "I was a-thinkin', when I see women contending for their rights, I was a-thinkin' what a difference there is now and what there was in old times" (Truth, 2253). She spoke up to King Ahasuerus and Esther, wanting to present her rights to the king and have him grant her half the kingdom. Truth paid attention in life; even though she was not taught in school and never learned how to read, she knew the history and was educated in things that she could use to her advantage in debates. Another statement she made was related to the Bible: "Jesus says: "What I say to one, I say to all-Watch!' I'm a-watchin'. God says, 'Honor your father and your mother." (Truth, 2254). She may not have been able to sit down and read the Bible, but she knew what it said and what it meant, and she understood it.
In one of her subsequent speeches, Truth stated, "White women are a great deal smarter and know more than colored women, while colored women know almost nothing."(Truth, 2254). In this statement, she brings up the fact that men of color and women are not educated like white men, and women are. They do not go to school or learn to read and write. Though this does not stop them from fighting for what they believe in. In that same speech, Truth also made a statement that rings true: "You have had our rights for so long that you think, like a slaveholder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for someone who has held the reins for so long to give them up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again" (2255). The truth may not have been schooled, but she uses metaphors that have a good relationship to what she was fighting for.
Sojourner Truth, an old slave woman, was not properly educated in school. She never learned to read or write as well as everyone else, but she did know her way around things that were important in the world. She would overhear people talking and remember and learn from what she heard. She took note of events and understood things that even people who could "legally" know about did not understand. Technically, according to popular belief, the truth was not literate. Once you break it down and think of how literacy can be changed and re-defined in the world, you realize that Sojourner Truth was literate in ways others were not—respect and understanding of important events.
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