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21 February 2007

The History of Us All

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to post one of my very favorite speeches. I first heard it in a Women’s Studies class in college and it brought tears to my eyes. It still does.

In the spring of 1851, the second Women's Rights Conference was held in Akron, Ohio. Most of the discussion at the conference was centered around women’s suffrage and (surprise) most men in attendance were denying that women were entitled to equal rights, saying not only that women weren't intelligent enough to vote, but also that they were less able in general. Weak and useless, essentially.

Sojourner Truth, a former slave, was the only black woman there. During the second day of the conference, she stood to give her opinion:

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.


It's simple, short, and moving.

Sojourner's speech captures a brief moment in the life of one black woman, a former slave, but also a whole era of feminine life in this country. Our great-great-grandmothers were not, for the most part, the kinds of women we write about in our romances. They were laborers and servants, farm-wives and slaves. They lived in crowded tenements or on the unyielding isolation of the frontier or in the slave quarters of the South. This country was built on their backs and in their wombs, and I, for one, plan on teaching my children about that before they get to college!

7 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

OMG, Victoria, that's an amazing speach, thanks for sharing!!!

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Judy T said...

What an outstanding speech, and it certainly made me sit up and take notice. Brava!

4:35 PM  
Blogger Kate S said...

Wow. That brought tears to my eyes too. Thanks for posting it.

4:59 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

I read it twice and was awestruck. What powerful, simple words.

Thanks for posting that Victoria. I passed my laptop around to share with the other women in the room.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Thanks, you guys. Her words about slavery are so touching, and then all of sudden she comes in with "Where did your Christ come from?. . . Man had nothing to do with Him." and I just want to cheer her on. *g*

I'm glad you guys liked it as much as I do. It actually makes me think of my Grandma who just died this month. She was 93 and funny & wicked as hell and, frankly, not very nice unless she really wanted to be. But the things she had been through in her life. . . She was a survivor.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Camilla said...

It's that sort of power words hold that compels me to continue to write. That speech, along with Dr King's I Have A Dream, always sends chills up my spine.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Edie said...

I have tears in my eyes. What an awesome woman! Thanks for posting it!

6:27 AM  

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