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.

Underground Railroad History in Michigan

So excited!  As a lover of American history – both its good and its bad history – I have found that there is a wealth of history on the Underground Railroad in the state where I recently became a resident.

I recently wrote a couple of blogs about statues of African-Americans in the USA.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial  and

Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

I knew there was a statute of Harriet Tubman in New York City.  This statute was dedicated in 2008 and is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

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However, I was surprised to find out there is not one, but two statutes of Tubman in Michigan.  In researching information on these statutes, I discovered that Michigan was very much involved in the Underground Railroad.

Looking at the map of Michigan it is easy to see why this location would have been perfect for those trying to escape slavery and find freedom in Canada.  Surrounded by three of the Great Lakes – Michigan, Huron and Erie, Michigan’s eastern cities are only a short distance from Canada.

The first monument is a bronze statue of not only Tubman but local conductors of the Underground Railroad, Erastus and Sarah Hussey.  This statue in Battle Creek, Michigan depicts Tubman and the other two conductors leading a group of runaway slaves to safety.   Created in 1993 by sculptor Ed Dwight the W. K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned the work.

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The second statue of Tubman is in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Located in Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan there are numeous sites connected with the Underground Railroad.

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(Permission for use of this photograph of the sculpture is granted by sculptor Jane A. DeDecker, Loveland, Colorado.  The sculpture of Harriet Tubman was created in 1995 and is an Edition of 7 with one located near the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Arkansas.)

 

Cass County in Southwest Michigan also offers many sites where the Underground Railroad was conducted by both free blacks and whites.  Slaves fleeing the South passed through Cass County, then on to Battle Creek and Detroit on their way to freedom in Canada.

So – what started as just wanting to see what statutes of African-Americans there were in the USA, I am excited to find I am near to a lot of history of the Underground Railroad.

Looks like I will be busy checking these sites out!  Can’t wait!

And, of course, I will be writing about these sites as I visit them.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial

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Crispus Attucks one of five killed in the Boston Massacre

Recently I shared a post about a statue of an African-American that my husband and I found when we were exploring a park in Charleston, North Carolina.  One of my readers wondered how many statues there are in the USA of African-Americans.  That started me on a search to find other statutes honoring them.

As a fan of President John Adams I have often read about the Boston Massacre which occurred on March 5, 1770.  Colonists who were very resentful of the British soldiers  stationed in Boston began to gather and taunt a small group of the soldiers daring them to shoot and pelting them with snow, ice and oyster shells.

As often happens when mobs take action, it appears one of the colonists struck a soldier with a rock and they reacted by firing their muskets into the crowd.  Three Americans were killed instantly and two more suffered wounds from which they soon died.

Attucks was the first colonist to fall and thus became one of the first to lose his life in the cause of American independence.  His body laid in state at Faneuil Hall in Boston until March 8.  Colonists printed pamphlets dubbing the event the “Boston Massacre” and made its victims instant martyrs.  Rather than a mob out of control they became symbols of liberty.  At the time blacks could not be buried in the same cemetery as whites, but in this instance Attucks was buried along with the others killed that night. All five victims were buried in a common grave.

John Adams took quite a chance on any future political career when he defended the British soldiers in court against the charge of murder.  Adams described Attucks as the self-appointed leader of the mob’s attack.

Every year leading up to the Revolutionary War the citizens of Boston observed the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

In 1858 a  “Crispus Attucks Days” was established and a memorial was erected to the five martyrs:  Crispus Attucks, James Caldwell, Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray and Samuel Maverick.

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While this is not a statue dedicated to Crispus Attucks alone, it is quite remarkable that, given the attitude of that age toward blacks, that he was buried with the others and included in this memorial.

Ten to 15 black soldiers fought against the British at the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill.  Although two of these men were recognized early for their bravery, Salem Poor and Peter Salem, it quickly became clear that while the founding fathers spoke of all men being created equal, they did not include enslaved blacks in that category.  Sadly, the 5,000 to 8,000 blacks who contributed to the cause of liberty both in combatant roles in battle and in noncombatant roles were never given recognition for their service and never granted the liberty the War was supposed to give to all men.

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