A question, famously asked by Sojourner Truth. Sojourner was an African- American women, who fought hard for the rights of both women and the abolition of slavery.
How did I discover Sojourner?
At 18 years old, when Sojourner Truth first rocked my world, I was young, shy and somewhat naive. But reading the words of her speech made me take notice. It made me think about the life ahead of me as a women and all that that would entail. When I was a child my mum had been very involved in women’s groups and fighting for women’s rights, but it wasn’t something I had really felt was part of my life. Possibly it was a generational thing? The 70’s/80’s where big times for women’s rights movements, but the 90’s felt quieter on that front, although I was a shy teenager, so maybe hadn’t noticed!! However, Sojourner’s speech got me thinking about the rights I took for granted as a young woman, inspiring me at the time to read more about Emily Pankhurst. But it wasn’t until much later in my life I would call myself an activist for women’s rights.
Sojourner’s early life
Sojourner’s life started in a place from which she would need to constantly fight. She was born to parents whom were slaves, meaning she was born a slave. From her very first breath she was somebody else’s property. Her childhood was tough, she was bought and sold on multiple occasions, from as young as 9 years old, meaning she found it difficult to form attachments. But upon meeting a man she loved deeply, she knew having children was a possibility. But any children Sojouener bore, would not be her own, they would belong to her slave owner. Sojourner’s slave owner, forbid her from having a relationship, even going as far as to beat to a pulp the love of her life, resulting in his death. All to flex the muscle of control over Sojourner, and his other slaves. He needed to make it clear they had no rights, thoughts or lives of their own.
Years later Sojourner was able to flee from slavery, as the Emancipation Bill crept in, but could only take with her her baby daughter, leaving 4 other children behind. I can’t imagine the pain and heartache as a mother, leaving behind her children. In spite of everything she had endured, Sojourner was a women of honour and her word. She knew her children could not yet be freed, due to emancipation laws, so left them to fulfil their obligations to their owner, not abandoned. As a mother, I have to admit I’m not sure I could show the same strength, leaving her children must have been so difficult. However, some years later, once she was fully a free women, Sojourner took on the courts, and her previous white slave owner to fight for the custody of her son. She won! Sojourner was the first black women to win a case of this kind against a white man. (*did you let out a little whoop for her? I did!)
our paths crossed again
It was many years later, when I myself was fighting a custody battle with my ex husband, that I re-read Sojourner’s speech, not purposely, but in an article in a magazine whilst waiting for the train to take me to the court hearing. Again her words hit me hard! I’m a huge believer in the universe putting things into our paths for a purpose, and I’m certain Sojourner’s speech popped up again to remind me I could be strong, that I was not just some ‘little woman’!
“Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!” And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. “And a’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscle power).A transcript of Sojourner Truth’s speech written by 1863 by Gage, 12 years after it was given.
Over the last five or six years of my life I’ve been more and more involved in projects and campaigns fighting for and supporting women’s rights. Such as ‘End period Poverty’, ‘Flex Appeal- flexible working for women’, ‘Women against Hate’, ‘Women’s Equality Party’. Time and time again I find myself hearing Sojourner’s words ringing in my ears-
” And ain’t I a woman?”
Below is a copy of her speech. The most famous of many of her speeches. Read it and let me know how it impacts you.
Although the years fly by, in some ways it feels the fight for women’s rights seems not to move at the same pace. I wonder what Sojourner would say ?