Many, many years ago I read a speech that left an indelible impression on my young mind. It was a speech written by an escaped slave, a woman, more than a century and a half ago. Soujourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman speech was delivered in Akron, Ohio in 1851 at a Women’s Rights Convention and has been quoted often over the years. Although there is some controversy over parts of the actual text, the gist of the speech has never been questioned.
Besides being a noted advocate for abolition and equal rights, Truth is also known for being the first black woman to sue a white man and win. She sued her former owner, John Dumont of New York, for illegally selling her five-year-old son, Peter, after the state had passed the Anti-Slavery Law, and triumphed.
Truth was born Isabella Baumfree, taking the last name of her owner as was the common practice, but later changed her name to Soujourner Truth to reflect her mission when she began to travel and spread the gospel, and speak out against slavery and for equal rights causes. She worked tirelessly to uplift the lives of slaves during her long life, 86 or 105 years, depending on the source. Her work, especially during the Civil War, attracted the attention of President Abraham Lincoln and gained her an audience with him at the White House. She was a woman not only for her time, but for all time.
Here is her speech that moved, and still moves me.
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) “Ain’t I A Woman?” Delivered at the 1851 Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio
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 thirteen 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 your 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.