4.30.2009

"i have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns...and ain't I a woman?"

This week, when Michelle Obama unveiled the statue of Sojourner Truth in Washington, DC, it marked the first time a black woman has been honoured in artwork at the US Capitol Building.

The creator of the sculpture, Artis Lane, was born in Ontario and grew up in Canada. For most of her 81 years, Artis has lived and worked in the US, but when a Canadian-born talent makes good, Canada will claim her as its own, forever.

I liked how Obama connected the pioneering abolitionist and feminist to her own experience.
I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America. . . . One can only imagine what Sojourner Truth, an outspoken, tell-it-like-it-is kind of woman...would have to say about this incredible gathering, just looking down on this day, and thinking about the legacy she has left all of us -- because we are all here because, as my husband says time and time again, we stand on the shoulders of giants like Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth, who endured slavery, is best remembered for her remarkable speech, delivered in 1851 to the Women's Convention in Akron, Ohio. Songs, books and poems have been inspired by the speech, but I think it's best savoured on its own.
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.

Wikipedia's entry on Truth's speech includes a first-hand account from another feminist pioneer, Frances Barker Gage.

11 comments:

Amy said...

Wow, what a great speech. I had never read it before. Thanks for the post.

L-girl said...

Thanks Amy. You just made my day.

Sarah O. said...

I'd never read that speech before, either. That first sentence of Obama's gave me goosebumps, but that speech gave me chills. Amazing. I'll add to the thanks, L-girl.

M@ said...

I've come across the name but never really connected it with a person. That speech has everything a good speech needs: wit, brevity, humanity, and truth. Fantastic.

The fact that she's the first black woman to be honoured with an artwork at the Capitol, though, is outrageous.

Cornelia said...

Wow, great, thanks!

Cornelia said...

Yay!!!

L-girl said...

I see everyone is intent on making my day! I have a habit of assuming that anything I know must be common knowledge. But we all know different things from our different interests and life paths. So I'm really happy to be able to share this with you all.

"That speech has everything a good speech needs: wit, brevity, humanity, and truth. Fantastic."

AND it was apparently extemporaneous! Truth never learned to write, and she was speaking in response to a man's speech given earlier that day.

"The fact that she's the first black woman to be honoured with an artwork at the Capitol, though, is outrageous."

Indeed. It was only very recently that there were any women depicted at all. I'll be right back...

L-girl said...

"Indeed. It was only very recently that there were any women depicted at all. I'll be right back..."

Turns out this isn't true. I was confusing a recent installation with the first installation.

Women in U.S. Capitol artwork

M@ said...

I see everyone is intent on making my day!Well you post stuff like this, you can hardly blame us...

richard said...

"...the first time a black woman has been honoured in artwork at the US Capitol Building"That's sad... So many others, who should be so honoured, will never be because their stories are lost, buried forever in the debris of slavery. What a loss!

Thanks for this post, Laura.

skdadl said...

I love that speech. We should all be able to recite those lines as easily as we can the classics from any of the great male liberators. Thanks for the post, Laura.