“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?”
And so begins Sojourner Truth’s famous (extemporaneous) “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, given at a Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio. In 1851, Sojourner Truth was already calling out issues of intersectionality in the feminist movement (long before we called it that) … because that’s the kind of kick-butt-woman she was.
Sojourner Truth was the name this incredible woman selected for herself. When she was born in 1797, she was named Isabella Baumfree (often called Belle). Isabella was born a slave in New York state (that’s right—there was slavery in the North). Isabella would weather incredible cruelty during her time as a slave. In 1827, when her current owner refuses to emancipate her according to New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, Isabella took her infant daughter and left. She later informed her master, “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight.”
Soon after, Truth learned that one of her sons, Peter, had been sold as a slave to a man in Alabama; again ignoring emancipation in New York. Truth took the matter to the court, and was able to successfully secure Peter’s safe return and his emancipation. While this may seem obvious, fair, and just by today’s standards, in the early 1800s this was monumental. The words of both women and African Americans were seen as inferior to those of white men in a court of law, and yet Sojourner Truth was able not only to bring a case against a white man … but to win that case. In 1835, Sojourner Truth would win another court case—a slander suit against a couple who had accused her of murder.
Truth became an avid advocate for social justice, fighting for abolition and women’s rights. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She joined the Northampton Association for Education and Industry. She befriended other leading advocates, from William Lloyd Garrison to Barton’s friend Frances Dana Gage.
During the Civil War, Sojourner Truth went to Washington, DC to advocate for African Americans. She recruited African American troops. She assisted the National Freedman’s Relief Association. She helped desegregate the street cars. Unlike Clara Barton, Sojourner Truth actually both met and spoke to President Lincoln.
To Learn More:
- Biography: http://bit.ly/1moebyv
- “Ain’t I A Woman” Transcript: http://bit.ly/1ZcmHi2
- More of Her Words: http://bit.ly/1YkKYjF
- Her Memoir: http://bit.ly/1MhawHo
- Ain’t I A Woman Lesson Plan: http://on.nyc.gov/1P8gyk7
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