Sojourner Truth – Ain’t I a Woman?

When we first moved to Michigan I was intrigued to find there were many areas in the state where there had been  Underground Railroad activity before the Civil War..  Located close to Canada, Battle Creek was one of the main stops for slaves traveling by foot through Indiana, Detroit and then Canada.

One of the most famous former slaves who became a strong abolitionist and champion of human rights was Sojourner Truth.  She lived in Battle Creek for the last 26 years of her life.  Born in New York State in 1797 and named Isabella, she escaped slavery while in her mid-thirties.

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Promised by her owner, Dumont, he would grant her freedom “if she would do well and be faithful,” she worked for him fulfilling the time he had specified.  When the date came for her freedom,  he refused to let her go.  Feeling she had kept her end of the bargain, she took her infant daughter and escaped.  Later talking about that decision to leave she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”  It must have been a tough decision because she left her older children behind as they were still legally considered property of Dumont.

The New York Anti-Slavery Law passed in 1799 stipulated that children born to slave mothers were free.  They were required to work for the mother’s master as indentured servnts into their late twenties but then be free.  Dumont ignored that law and sold Isabella’s five-year-old son.  She filed a lawsuit to get him back and was the first black woman to sue a white man in a United States court and win.

After excaping slavery she became a Christian.  In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth.  She felt she had an obligation to travel and speak out against slavery and oppression while sharing the news of the Gospel.

Asked to speak at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convetnion in 1851 she spoke out about black women’s rights.  Reporters took down her speech and it has been widely publicized as ‘Ain’t I a Woman?”

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

During the Civil War she helped recruit black soldiers.  Working for the National Freedman’s Relief in DC she encouraged people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to the black slaves escaping from the South.  This bought her to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who welcomed her to the White House and showed her a Bible he had been given by African Americans in Baltimore.  She was bold enough to ride on whites-only streetcars while in DC.

She spoke to fellow Christians when she asked:  “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? …. Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”

She visited more than 20 states speaking against the evil of slavery.  While speaking to a Quaker group in Battle Creek in 1856, she felt so welcome in this community that she moved here the following year.  At first she lived in a small settlement west of town called Harmonia, moving into Battle Creek in 1867 where she lived until her death in 1883.

Today there is a statute celebrating her in downtown Battle Creek.

 

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Because it was illegal to teach slaves, she never learned to read or write. This is the only known example of her signature which she wrote in an autograph book of a high school student in April 28, 1880.

She is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek as well as some of her children.

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You can learn more about this courageous woman in “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth which she dictated to Olive Gilbert.

Do You Know These Women – Part IV

In past blogs I have written about women who have been neglected in our history books.  Women who played important roles in World War II, in the NASA program and in our political system.  Sadly it seems writers of history books have told of the brave and intelligent men of our country, but seem to have overlooked so many women who have also contributed to our nation’s success.

Reading with my husband through the Bible this year I realize this is also true in our churches.  Anyone who has attended Sunday School or Bible classes in the past or read a Bible storybook for children know about the great men of the Bible.

  • Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
  • Moses and Joshua
  • Samson, Gideon
  • Samuel, Saul and David
  • Peter, John and the disciples
  • Paul

But how many know of

  • Deborah
  • Jael
  • Shiphrah
  • Puah
  • Huldah

We meet Deborah in the book of Judges.  She was a judge and a phophetess in Israel.  Interesting for a woman to be a judge in that time frame where women were often considered not much more than a man’s property.  The Lord gave Deborah instructions to call for a man named Barak and tell him he was to take 10,000 men and go to battle against the Canaanite army that was oppressing Israel.  Barak was afraid to go to battle against this powerful king and told Deborah he would not go unless she went with him.

Deborah agreed to go but told Barak:

Certainly I will go with you, But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

You can read the entire story in Judges 4 but a woman named Jael had the honor of killing the Canaanite king, Sisera.

In Sunday School we all heard the great story of Moses and how he was saved from death during the time Pharaoh had ordered all male babies to be killed.  The emphasis  in the story is usually how God moved miraculously to save this future leader.  However,  the fact that all those involved in his deliverance were women is usually not even mentioned.  First there were the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who refused to kill the male babies as Pharaoh had instructed them.  Next was Moses’ mother who by faith made a little boat coated with tar and placed Moses in the river trusting God to spare his life.  God even used Pharaoh’s daughter who had compassion when she saw Moses and adopted him.  His sister, Miriam, was wise and brave enough to quickly come out of hiding where she was watching to see what would happen to Moses.  She boldly suggested to Pharaoh’s daughter that she select a woman from the Israelites to nurse this little baby.  Without these women there might have been no Moses, no great deliver of Israel.  You can check this story out in Exodus 2

Hundreds of years later as Israel became a nation they turned from following the law of Moses and began worshiping idol gods.  Then a young king named Josiah came to the throne and began tearing down the idols built throughout the land and started repair to the temple.  In the process the high priest found the Law of Moses that had long been lost.  The priest and a scribe brought the book to Josiah

When the king read the book he tore his clothes as a sign of repentance and moaning.  He instructed these men to inquire of the Lord what they should do because it was clear that they were not following the Law.

You would think that these two men would have gone and began seeking God’s guidance.  After all, who would be closer to God than they were?  Who would better understand what God required?

The priest was the high priest – no one higher in the religious circle than he.  The scribe mentioned probably was at the head of the scribes as he came with the high priest to show Josiah the book they had found.

But these men were clearly aware that there was someone who had a better understanding of the will of God than they had.  And who was that?

A woman – Huldah.  She gave a message from God to the king regarding how the nation should respond to this crisis of faith.

That is all we hear of Huldah.  But without her message from God the revival Josiah had began might never have reached the entire nation and brought a return to God’s law.  You can check out Huldah’s story in 2 Chronicles 34.

Interesting that in the history of the church many refused to recognize that God could/did call women to minister His word.  There are still churches today that deny women the right to share the call of God on their lives.

Thankfully Israel did not reject the guidance of Deborah and Huldah and deny God’s call on their lives.

There are many other women in the Bible that played such an important part in the story of God.

Eve, Tamar, Rahab, Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Naomi, Jehosheba, Esther, Mary, Anna,  Mary Magdalene. Lydia, Priscilla and Phoebe.

What really is interesting to me that when Jesus died, it was the women who stood at the cross.  It was the women who went to the tomb to properly prepare his body.  When Jesus arose from the dead the first person He called to share the good news was a woman.

Next time you read the Bible, play a little more attention to the women.  They are an important part of the story.

 

 

Do You Know These Women – Part III

On May 5, 1961 Alan Shepard, Jr became the first American in space.  Mercury-Redstone’s 15-minute flight was watched by some 45 million television viewers.

I was one of those eagerly watching.   Our junior high school classes suspended the day’s teaching and brought in television sets so we could watch this great moment in history.

What exciting times!  In the years following Americans continued to watch the launching of many rockets and learned the names of the astronauts who were heroes as the Mercury project launched six manned spacecraft between 1961 and 1963.

  • Alan Shephard, Jr – first American in space in 1961.
  • John Glenn – first American to orbit the earth in 1962.
  • Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – first to reach the moon in 1969.

Today these men’s names are easily recognized and recently a movie was even made about Neil Armstrong, whose first words as he stepped on the surface of the moon has been celebrated:

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While these men have enjoyed fame, the women who worked behind the scene to make these space launches a success are known by few.

One of these women was Katherine Johnson.  Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918, Johnson clearly had a brilliant mind.  In school she advanced ahead several grades and attended high school by the time she was thirteen.  Enrolling in the black West Virginia State College, she graduated with highest honors in 1937 and began teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

Selected by Dr John W. Davis in 1939 Johnson, along with two male students, were the first black students to be enrolled in West Virginia University.

In 1952 Johnson learned of an all-black computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ at the Langley laboratory in Virginia.  There Johnson analyzed data from flight tests and studied the effects of wake turbulence.

Johnson provided math for several of the engineers and did trajectory analysis for the first launch into space in 1961.  As the engineers began to recognize Johnson’s expertise she was asked to work with them in constructing a worldwide communications network that linked tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral and Bermuda.  When John Glenn was preparing for his orbit around the earth he was concerned about the math computations that predicted where he would reenter the earth’s atmosphere.  He was not comfortable with relying on the machines’ calculations.  He asked them to “get the girl” to run the same numbers by hand that the computer had run.  “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 after contributing to the Apollo mission sending men to the moon and working on the space shuttle program.  She has received many honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  This highest civilian honor was presented to her in 2015, at age 97, by President Obama.  NASA also named a building after her – the Katherine G.  Johnson Computational Research Facility.

When you consider the time in which Johnson achieved such success – a time when women had much fewer options opened to them as we do now – but also a time when black Americans were still living under Jim Crow laws in the south – she is an amazing example of courage, determination and brains.

To read much more about this amazing woman and her fellow computers – Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, check out the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly.

A movie has also been made based on this book.  I would recommend the movie, but to get the complete story, you need to read the book.  As all movies do, some liberties were taken in the movie.

As they say “behind every successful man is a women” this is certainly true in our space program.

These women’s history should be taught in school along with the names of the astronauts.

Do You Know These Women? – Part II

History books are full of the deeds of men – both good and bad.  But what about the women?  Surprisingly women have accomplished a great deal that has never really been given the attention it deserves.

Yesterday I wrote about the women who helped break the codes of the Axis forces in World War II.  If you did not read that post, I encourage you to do so.  I also mentioned a book that gives much more detail about these thousands of women who helped us achieve victory in that war.

Do You Know These Women?

While these women were working to help win the war, another woman created a lot of controversy in her lack of support for the war.

Jeannette Rankin was the first woman elected to the United States Congress.   She was elected in 1916 four years before the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment did not give women the right to vote, it guaranteed them the right to vote.  Before passage of the amendment, women in many states already had the right to vote.  Montana was one of those states and thus was the first state to send a woman to Congress.

The following states granted women the right to vote prior to the 19th Amendment:

1890 Wyoming
1893 Colorado
1896 Utah, Idaho
1910 Washington
1911 California
1912 Arizona, Kansas, Oregon
1914 Montana, Nevada
1917 New York
1918 Michigan, Oklahoma, South Dakota

A native of Montana Rankins was an activist for much of the 20th century and a heroine to the feminists in the 1960’s.

Her first vote in the House of Representatives – the first cast by any woman – was to vote against a declaration of war against Germany in 1917.  That time she was joined by 50 in the House and six in the Senate in opposing the war.

Years later she was the lone member of Congress who voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt’s declaration of war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  That vote cost her political career.

In retirement she became a world traveler meeting many leaders of other countries.  She also spoke on women’s rights, called for election reform, and continued to advocate for legislation to protect children.

As a member of Congress, she had sponsored a bill with Senator Joseph Robinson to provide much needed health care for mothers and children.

During hearings on the bill a Dr. Howe objected that women should quit fighting for the vote and stay home and take care of their children.  He said babies were even born blind because their mothers did not have the sense to use silver nitrate to prevent the blindness.

Jeanette Rankin:  “How do you expect women to know this disease when you do not feel it proper to call it by its correct name?  Do they not in some states have legislation which prevents women from knowing these diseases and only recently….were women permitted in medical schools.  You yourself, from your actions, believe it is not possible for women to know the names of these diseases.”

Dr. Howe:  “I did not like to use the word ‘gonorrhea’.”

Jeanette Rankin:  “Do you think anything should shock a woman as much as blind children?  Do you not think they ought to be hardened enough to stand the name of a disease when they must stand the fact that children are blind?”

While I personally did not agree with a lot of her political and social stands, I was impressed by what she accomplished as a single woman in that time of history in the USA.  Interesting that we do not hear much about this first woman elected to Congress.  Think you might enjoy learning more.  You can – take a look at this interesting and controversial woman in the book “Jeanette Rankin – America’s Conscience” by Norma Smith.

 

 

(Details of interaction between Rankin and Howe are found in the Montana Historical Society Archives)