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?.
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Ain’t I a woman? one of the most infamous speeches given by a determined, intellectual, and beautiful woman named Sojourner Truth. Truth had many barriers that she took a stand against, that could’ve destroyed her, but she used them as motivation to give slaves, women, and all society a chance at equality. Truth was a comfortable speaker who gave women, slaves and former slaves courage to pursue freedom and their rights as human beings for equality. Sojourner wasn’t always her name. She was a former slave who was beaten, abused and mistreated. She worked all hours and didn’t have days off. Until, she took a stand for herself and her child. This led to one of the first ever cases of illegal slave selling of Truth’s child won by an African American woman against a white man. She is one that should be in all history books. She took a stand for what should’ve been right and helped lead the movement of abolishing slavery, racial inequality and the womens rights movement.
As being born into a slavery, she was given the name Isabella Baumfree around 1797, speaking only Dutch to the Hardenbergh family in Ulster County, New York. Essentially, Isabella was born a piece of property and never was anything more until she was free. She was one of 10 or 12 children (records weren’t correct in which) to also slaves, which she was the only child with left with her parents. This made her parents depressed and it was said that her childhood her mother would reminisce over the other children and tell her they all look at the same stars to keep Belle strong. At the age of 9, Isabella was sold when Colonel Hardenbergh passed away to John Neely with a flock of sheep for $100. Sojourner never talked much about just how harsh her time being a slave was, but Neely wasn’t very kind to her she spoke how she would be beaten daily and once even with a bundle of rods, if not the harshest place she ever was with harsh physical labor and violent punishments. Sojourner was sold three more times for just as much as before with animal or something else a white man needed. Truth was a 6-foot-tall women who was a slave so her body was strong. She was seen as a good property to have and was sold many times before freed. She was treated like an animal and sold just the same. This can have detrimental effects on a child/human being. However, this made her stronger and more resilient to negativity and harsh treatments as bad as that is. It led her to being known as one of the infamous women in American history.
Her fourth owner and last wasn’t any kinder named John Dumont and his second wife who created a lot of tension in the household between Dumont’s wife and Sojourner. Dumont’s wife Elizabeth harassed her and made her life more difficult as stated in Sojourners Truth’s America by Margaret Washington. Around this time, 1815 Sojourner fell in love with a slave from a neighboring farm named Robert. Robert’s owner forbid the relationship and he did not want children between someone he enslaved with someone who wasn’t his because he wouldn’t have ownership of the children. When one day Robert snuck over to see Truth, Robert’s owner found him and brutally beat him. Until Dumont stepped in and Truth never would see Robert again. Truth then married an older slave named Thomas who she birthed 5 children with. Her first born died in child birth, and 4 others named James(firstborn), Diana, Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia. They were all born after Truth and Thomas got together.
Beginning in the state of New York, in 1799 to legislate the abolition of Slavery, though it wasn’t complete until July in 1827. Dumont (Sojourners slave owner) had promised to grant her freedom, if she chose to remain loyal and worked hard. However, as many did he changed his mind and claimed that a hand injury had made her less productive, but she continued to work and do everything asked even with said hand injury. Later in life, she rarely showed her hand or the wound on her back. I think this speaks volumes, because knowing slavery was never a walk in the park. She wouldn’t show off her wounds and talk about it. Instead she talked about helping slaves come back from slavery and getting jobs. Even though she was upset and angry that he failed to fulfil his promise to her she kept going and continued to follow through. After a while, she hit a point where she couldn’t do it anymore. In 1826, Truth and her baby daughter Sophia, escaped to freedom. She had to leave her other children behind because they were not legally freed until they were in their twenties. At that time, taking them would be a battle she couldn’t win if found against a courtroom and could result in worse actions. She said later in life that I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” Truth then met and stayed at a family of Isaac and Maria Van Wagener’s a Quaker family who lived in New Paltz, the family allowed Truth and her child into the house. The family bought her freedom from Dumont for $20 and they helped Truth to sure for the return of her son Peter who was 5 years old and illegally sold to a slave owner in Alabama. Her son had been abused by the slave owner who had him. Truth became the first black women to go against a white man in court and win her case. When staying with the Van Wagener’s Truth had a life-changing religious experience and this helped shape her move to New York city and she found work as a house keeper to Elijah Pierson, a Christen Evangelist. Over her time in New York city, she did more house keeping jobs and even met a few former slaves and talked over abolition and charities.
Religious Rivals Truth participated all over the state and became a well-known speaker. This helped set in motion when Isabella Baumfree was no longer, and Truth declared that the spirit called her to preach the truth. She became an itinerant preacher and then renamed herself Sojourner Truth. Truth became a Methodist and made her way traveling, preaching and spoke about the abolition of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. In Massachusetts’s currently at the time Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Fredrick Douglass, and David Ruggles. Around 1846, the group disbanded without funding, but those relationships made helped Truth to make connections to other abolitionists and helped her to form more ideals into her preaching and the injustice of slavery. This also helped her to find Olive Gilbert in 1850 who dictated Truth’s autobiography The Narrative of Sojourner Truth and Olive helped her to get it published. The autobiography helped her to support herself and gave her more of a national recognition. The sales of the books helped Truth to purchase her first home in what would be the village of Florence, Northampton for $300. Truth spoke at the first National Women’s rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. Truth met a lot of inspiring women and had a chance to involve herself in many advocacy positions for Womens Rights. She met Elizabeth Cady and Susan B. Anthony who were very inspiring advocates. However, let it be said upon reading many excerpts Truth did distant her self from womens rights groups because many women still spoke racist terms, and were fine with white women getting to vote over all women.
In 1851, Truth joined an abolitionist and a speaker George Thompson on a lecture tour through central and western New York state. In May of 1851, Truth journeyed to the Ohio’s Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. This is where she delivered her infamous and celebrated speech Ain’t I a Women? Her speech was moving and delivered equal rights for all women. Truth challenged the notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality by telling listeners of her strength and the strength of all women. Also, of women being just the same as men, if not more hardworking, determined and intelligent. Truth took the stage like a true speaker demanding you acknowledge her presence, many even questioned her womanhood considering she was 6-foot-tall in stature and commanding. This is what essentially evoked her speech and women’s equality. Also, its good to take note that several newspapers over the years shared many different speeches of her Ain’t I a woman? It’s now very hard to tell which one was the original, but the concept of the equality for women is the same. Around this time, Truth had parted ways with friend Fredrick Douglass because of his beliefs for suffrage for formerly enslaved men should come before women, where as Truth believed both should come equally. Truth was a radical reformer meaning she wanted to make society equal.
When Sojourner settled in Battle creek, Michigan where Truth’s 3 daughters lived she continued to speak nationally and helped many slaves escape to freedom. During the Civil War start Sojourner urged young men to join Union cause. She organized supplies for black troops. Sojourner even helped the Freedman’s bureau who helped freed slaves find jobs and build new lives. This brought attention to her and her work and gained the interest of many including the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. After the war, Sojourner was honored with an invite to the White House. However, some trouble when acquiring the meeting so, Truth asked a white school teacher Lucy Coleman who became an anti-slavery lecturer to help arrange it for her. After much of a wait, Lucy went to Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmaker as a messenger she succeeded in making the appointment. Lucy finally took Sojourner to see the president after waiting weeks of hearing back they then had to wait several hours to see the busy president on October 29th, 1864. Lincoln later expressed his sorrow for having Sojourner go through such hardships to see him and the hassle. While Sojourner was in there in a letter in 1864 she stated Upon entering his reception room we found about a dozen persons in waiting, among them two colored women. I had quite a pleasant time waiting until he was disengaged and enjoyed his conversation with others; he showed as much kindness and consideration to the colored persons as to the white. One case was that of a colored woman who was sick and likely to be turned out of her house on account of her inability to pay her rent. The president listened to her with much attention and spoke to her with kindness and tenderness. While Truth was in D.C. she lobbied against segregation.
During the 1860’s a Jim Crow street car conductor tried to violently block her from riding. This was during her stay in Washington and she went to court to successfully appeal her rights for a third time and asked for the right to ride. This showed how wise and charismatic she was. Even though her being technically an illiterate woman never being taught to read or write she still proceeded to follow her truth and won another court case. This if not everything else her life had led up to be her mission so to say. She was put in these almost unfathomable situations and she proceeded to break barriers and show people it was possible to be recognized even though all the faults she had. In the late 1860’s Truth collected 1000’s of signatures on a petition to provide former slaves with land and jobs, though Congress never acted upon it. Sojourner volunteered and helped to provide insight to former slaves and helped them to see positive in not just her life, but other former slaves lives also. However, because of this influx of former slaves needing a place to stay and jobs the Government was prepared. So, there was no place for ex-slaves to live, minimal amounts of food and no employment. While working at the Freedman’s village and for the Freedman’s Bureau trying to improve the life of ex-slaves and their living conditions. In an outline provide by an organization dedicated to Sojourner Truth, it was said Maryland residents would come to Freedman’s Village and with the purpose of stealing children. Truth learned of the kidnappings and encouraged the parents to protest. This wasn’t right, and she believed something needed to be done. The camp commanders threatened to imprison her also as they had done to many of the parents who complained. Sojourners reply was if they tried, she would make this nation rock like a cradle. She was active in helping slaves relocate to many western states like Kansas. Sojourner still lobbied the government to give ex-slaves free land and to pay their transportation costs to their new homes. She carried those petitions with her urging people to sign them asking Why don’t some of you stir ?em up as though an old body like myself could do all the stirring. She was telling people if she could (an older black woman) could do it, why can’t anyone else make a stand and take initiative.
There isn’t much more information about after 1870 of her life however she continued to give speeches and lecture on the injustice of slavery and for equality. In her final years, nearly blind and deaf, she spent her final years in Michigan. Sojourner Truth passed away on November 26th, 1883. Her funeral service reportedly attended by thousands of people, was held at the Congregational-Presbyterian Church. She is buried in Oak hill cemetery near her family home in Battle Creek, Michigan. After her death, the final edition of the Narrative was published. In 1892, it was commissioned to an artist to portray the meeting of Sojourner and Abraham Lincoln at the White House. It was later destroyed in a fire, but a photographer luckily got a picture and preserved the image. There is many local contributions and memorials in Battle Creek that displays Truth’s life and legacy. A united states postage stamp was issued in her honor at the Sojourner Truth Library in New Paltz, New York. There are also statues in several places, but one being Florence, Massachusetts. Sojourner Truth is a name that is still celebrated and lectured on. She is an amazing, brilliant, strong soul who will continue to live on.
My take on Sojourner Truth is she is an amazing, truly inspiring, and moving woman who makes me want to do more in society. If she can handle all of her strives with such beautiful insight through such terrible times, why can’t I do more? Not only are her speeches amazing, but the way she handles being a slave and struggling. I know in my day and age if I had to go through those torturous conditions, I don’t know if I’d survive let alone be able to continue working for a man who beat me, broke me, and hurt my children or significant other. Also, dealing with the segregation, she took it to court. She didn’t act out and fight or hurt another she took it to the law and proved who was in the wrong and that she was right. Its an amazing quality to attribute to her and see. Before this I only her name a few times, but never knew about all the things she did and life she led. Her mission was to help and lead others to be active in society and to stand up for the rights you believe in. Her beliefs were that ALL should be equal, and that there shouldn’t be such a thing as segregation. She went against huge topics that are still a factor in society today like race, gender and even class. Sadly, she never got to see a world unsegregated or equality for all, but I believe she would be proud for the activists across the world who stood up till it happened. Sojourner Truth was a woman to be reckoned with a I do believe she could rock the nation, if she didn’t from anything she did and stood up for.
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