Mar 30, 2021 Book of the Week — Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time
“Yes, reader, if any one feels that the tocsin of alarm, or the anti-slavery trump, must sound a louder note before they can hear it, one would think they must be very hard of hearing – yea, that they belong to that class, of whom it may be truly said, ‘they have stopped their ears that they may not hear.”
Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Boston: Published for the Author, 1875
E185.97 T8 G55 1875
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree into slavery in Ulster County, New York. Her parents were freed when whites who inherited her family would not support her father, who was too old to work. Fearing sale to the South, Truth found refuge with a nearby abolitionist couple. She renamed herself. With their help, she escaped bondage in 1826 and sued successfully for the freedom of her son, Peter, who had been sold unlawfully to an Alabaman. She was the first black woman to win a case against a white man. In the 1850s, she became a charismatic Black spiritual leader and prominent spokeswoman for the rights of women. She attracted large audiences as a gospel singer and abolitionist preacher. Truth, along with other Black women, adopted a scriptural defense of women’s rights.
Truth delivered her “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron in 1851: “I have borne thirteen children, and seen them 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?”
Her Narrative, first published in 1850, was dictated to and transcribed by her friend Olive Gilbert and contains a preface by William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison wrote, “We cannot plead not guilty; every accusation that is registered against us is true; the act of violence is in our hands; the stolen property is in our possession; our fingers are stained with blood; the cup of our iniquity is full.”
In her Narrative Truth wrote, “Slaveholders appear to me to take the same notice of the vices of the slave, as one does of the vicious disposition of his horse. They are often an inconvenience; further than that, they care not to trouble themselves about the matter.” As an abolitionist, Truth was friends with some of the most powerful white voices in the movement, including Abraham Lincoln, whom she met in 1864; Susan B. Anthony; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Lydia Maria Child; and Lucretia Mott. During the American Civil War, Truth helped to recruit black troops for the Union Army and, at the war’s end, unsuccessfully attempted to secure land grants from the federal government for formerly enslaved people.
Well into the early 20th century, Truth was pointed to as a Black leader in the women’s movement, cited frequently by feminist theologians.
The third edition of Narrative was expanded by the addition of “The Book of Life,” which contains a history of Truth’s work, with correspondence, newspaper articles, and other items from her personal collection. In 1875, Truth decided to update her autobiography by asking her business manager, Frances Titus (1816-1894), to choose pieces to accompany the original text. Titus focused not on real life events, however, but on the Sojourner Truth legend, possibly deliberately changing dates, in order to make Truth’s story more sensational. For instance, Titus added more than twenty years to her age to legitimize an absurd claim that she had nursed George Washington.