Frances Gage reported that Truth encountered hissing and hostility as she began to speak. Yet there is much debate and conflicting reports on how she was received. According to Carleton Mabee, “Gage’s account is not consistent with other reports written immediately after the speech” (Delivered).
Contrary to Gage’s reports, it is reported that Truth did not encounter hostility, but rather the audience received her well, “By the time she finished, even some of the clergymen were applauding” (Newsweek). Other reports of the event note “hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of “testifyin’ agin concerning the wickedness of this ‘ere people.” (Biographical) Carleton Mabee asserts that “Gage accurately reported some of what Truth said and embellished other parts.” (Delivered) Carleton Mabee also asserts Sojourner Truth’s repetition of the famous phrase “Ain’t I a Woman” was most likely added by Frances Gage. This phrase was not documented in any news story covering the convention, or in any other speeches that Truth made later (Delivered).
Who was Sojourner Truth you ask? At the time of the speech she was an ex-slave and a fiery abolitionist. She was born Isabella Bomefree in Hurley, Ulster County, NY. Her exact birth date is unknown. Some sources believe that she was born about 1797, while other sources note 1795 and still others believe 1799. Her parents of course were both slaves. Isabella was sold four times and borne thirteen children. She escaped the bondage of slavery in the 1820’s and gained legal freedom in the year 1827. “A deeply religious woman, Isabella took the name Sojourner Truth after God spoke to her” (Sojourner). She was convinced that God had called her to preach throughout the country, spreading the truth.
Sojourner Truth was a figure of imposing physique. “She was more than six feet tall and built like a linebacker with huge muscles from working in the fields” (Newsweek). She was a riveting preacher and spellbinding singer who dazzled listeners with her wit and originality. She ended her famous speech with, “Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.” (Newsweek)
Truth was an illiterate woman of remarkable intelligence. Sojourner became a national symbol for not only strong black women, but to white women as well. She helped all women who were unhappy with the limitations imposed upon them. She was one of the most outspoken advocates, active in both the campaign to extend equal rights to all women and abolition (America). She is also known for other moving statements such as “An abolition affair!” and “Woman’s rights and niggers!” (Biographical) She also “put protestors in their place”(Newsweek).
I believe that most Americans today feel women have the same rights as men. They believe that women now have equal rights, but do they really? In many cases women do have equal rights. They are able to vote, purchase property and even own and run businesses. There are other instances however, that women do not have equal rights as men. Women are now able to join the military and even go to war which is wonderful! The inequality comes when “women are excluded from serving on submarines, some smaller naval vessels, and direct ground combat.” (Should) I don’t believe that the issue is that women can’t handle combat, it’s that our society can’t handle the idea of women in combat. In our society “men have been associated as warriors and the ones to protect women.” Women are seen as “the birth givers, not the warriors. When people think of soldiers they think of male warriors, not female.” (Should)
Over time women are beginning to be accepted more and more. There are concerned Americans and politicians debating the issues as I write this paper. I think that it is inevitable, someday women will be able to hold the same positions as men in the military and elsewhere. Sojourner Truth and her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech left a HUGE impact on America and the lives of its people.
Sojourner Truth paved the way to opportunity not only for the blacks, but also for women. Today we tend to take for granted the freedoms women now enjoy. Women are able to vote, due to Truth’s and other suffragists’ blood, sweat and tears. Women are also able to hold jobs other than nannies and housekeepers. A woman can be a doctor, a lawyer and even a senator or congresswoman. Women are also able to work on their education or simply attend school and even college. Although women aren’t always seen as equal to men, they are not seen as inferior as they once were.
Some families and some cultures still view women as fragile and weak, to each their own. Society as a whole accepts and respects women and their efforts, accomplishments and contributions. For that, we need to thank Sojourner Truth and all of the suffragists.
It is true that if it hadn’t been Truth, it would have been someone else. However, the truth is that Truth cared, she had a passion and a drive and she made a difference in America. The difference has been very big in America for women as well as blacks or the slaves.
“More than 100 years after her death Truth still serves as a symbol of hope for the oppressed.” (Gazette) A small group of New York garment workers have formed The “Ain’t I a Woman?!” campaign. Their plight began to hold DKNY accountable for sweatshop conditions in their factories. DKNY workers have been joined by other women workers who also have tolerated abusive conditions. Many of these “workers have risked so much to fight to be treated with respect like human beings, and to have some say about their working conditions. (Campaign) Sojourner Truth took the plight of Women’s Rights into her strong arms and turned the tide in their favor.
“At her death in 1883, she could rightly be remembered as one of the nations most eloquent opponents of discrimination in all forms.” (Martin) Her more than 1000 people attended her funeral in 1883. Who would have thought that more than 1000 people would attend the funeral of a black ex-slave.
Since her death there have been many memorials and tributes to Sojourner. The Sojourner Truth Memorial Association was incorporated in 1944. In 1966 Mayor Preston Kool declared Sojourner Truth Day as May 18th. The United States Postal Service issued a Sojourner Truth stamp, in her honor in 1986. Sojourner Truths powerful works and actions still resonate in America today!
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1 June 2005
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29 May 2005