Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sojourner Truth's Epic "Ain't I A Woman" Speech (1851)

by Barry Michael Cooper

Check it: if there was no Sojourner Truth (former slave turned-abolitionist and human rights activist from the 19th Century), there would be no Fannie Lou Hamer, no Shirley Chisholm, no Bella Abzug, no Betty Friedan, no Angela Davis, no Gloria Steinem, no bell hooks, no Hillary Rodham Clinton, no Sonia Sotomajor, no Oprah Winfrey, no Michelle Obama. Sojourner Truth was the blueprint for their skyscraper of empowerment, the rocket fuel in their socio-cultural jet-packs.

Ms. Truth was the truth; an eloquent Mistress of Historical Ceremony, whose "Ain't I A Woman" speech stands as a extemporaneously magnificent monument to her powerful emcee skills. "Ain't I A Woman" is a testament for all Americans--Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, men, women, young and old--who believe that freedom is a Providential right. Not a racially or gender-bound aristocratic privilege.

Marius Robinson--an abolitionist who worked with Ms. Truth and attended Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio, where Ms. Truth gave this stirring oration on 29 May 1851--recounted the historic event for the 21 June 1851 issue of the Anti-Slavery Bugle. Mr. Robinson wrote:
"One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the convention was made by Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gesture, and listened to her strong and truthful tones. She came forward to the platform and addressing the President said with great simplicity: 'May I say a few words?' Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded:"
"I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. 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 a woman have a pint, and a 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 can't take more than our pint'll hold. The poor men seems 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 won't be so much trouble. I can't 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 the woman who bore him. Man, where was 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, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard."

One more thought; there is on "last day" for Black History month, because African-American history--as it is with anyone's history--has no period at the end of its declaration. Only an ellipsis...

My debut anthology of street journalism from the 1980s (and more current essays), "Hooked On The American Dream-Vol.1: New Jack City Eats Its Young," is now available on Kindle/Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon site.

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