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  •  Not Sojourner Truth's Speech (6+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, this version, though widely distributed today, was reconstructed by a white woman, Frances Dana Gage, from her memory 12 years after Truth made the speech.

    There is a more contemporary version, written only a month after the speech, as is mentioned and reprinted on the website:

    ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS  (The Ain't I A Woman Speech)

    In May 1851 Sojourner Truth attended the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. She delivered a simple but powerful speech recorded in the June 21, 1851, issue of the Anti-Slavery Bugle, edited by Marcus Robinson (with whom Truth worked.) It is this speech which was transformed into the "Ain't I a Woman?" legend by Frances Dana Gage, the organizer of the convention. She published her version of Truth's speech, complete with crude Southern dialect in the April 23, 1863, issue of the New York Independent.

    I wrote a mini-review of Nell Irvin Painter's book on Sojourner Truth as a historical figure and her mythical symbolic importance, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol:

    Despite the difficulty of working from a relative lack of source material, this biography is informative and enlightening. I was fascinated to read that so much of what I thought was Truth - was myth. The "Ain't I a Woman" speech? Written by Frances Gage, a white woman, 12 years after Truth's speech. Truth never said what has become, in legend, her signature line. The chapter on her involvement in the abusive Prophet Matthias cult was riveting and sensitively portrayed.
    There are some glitches. For example, what was Painter thinking in the chapter about Truth's incredible lawsuit to recover her 5 year-old son who was illegally sold south to Alabama? Painter got distracted into a bizarre and irrelevant discussion of witchcraft rather than focusing on the wrenching emotional fallout amidst the legal triumph. Later in the book, Painter seems to have become a little tired of her subject, or perhaps frustrated because of the lack of material from which to work, but her discussion of the history of the legend of Sojourner Truth might be the best part of the whole work.

    In any case, in the interest of historical truth, here is Marcus Robinson's version of the speech, reprinted from the Sojourner Truth site linked to above:

    The following is the original 1851 report by Marcus Robinson.

    One of the most unique and interesting speeches of the convention was made by Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience. Those only can appreciate it who saw her powerful form, her whole-souled, earnest gesture, and listened to her strong and truthful tones. She came forward to the platform and addressing the President said with great simplicity: "May I say a few words?" Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded:

    I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman's rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart -- why can't she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, -- for we can't take more than our pint'll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don't know what to do. Why children, if you have woman's rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won't be so much trouble. I can't read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

    •  Francis Gage used 'Negro' dialect in her report. (0+ / 0-)

      This guy you cite uses somewhat formal English. Which is the true report? I submit no one really knows. I like the version I submitted the most. So, thank you, but I will stick with 'my' version.

      I used to be Snow White. And then I drifted. - Mae West

      by CherryTheTart on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 02:44:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Gage's Southern Dialect is Not Accurate-& Racist (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        grannyhelen, Nowhere Man

        Nell Irvin Painter Discusses this reaction in the book I mentioned above.

        Sojourner Truth was born and grew up in New York, not in the South, and she never lived in the South (unless you count Washington DC, where she lived during the Civil War -- long after she gave this speech). She would not have spoken using southern dialect: it was Gage's racist way of portraying Truth's speech.

        Painter also argues that the use of southern dialect in Gage's version tends to obscure the role of slavery in the North.

        When Painter presented her findings about this to historians, documenting her findings along these lines, she was surprised to find that some historians simply didn't want to believe that the Gage speech they loved, however unlikely, was inaccurate.

        More than one basically told her that her findings were factually persuasive, but the Gage speech was so apt that it too useful to give up. Painter argues that Gage's version of the speech is a fascinating historical document about the interplay between truth and legend, and between white and black feminists, but it is important that we try to understand this historical myth-making process, and not just ignore it for the sake of (temporary) political convenience.

        •  I am aware that Gage's 'gullah' is inaccurate. (1+ / 0-)
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          I like the speech I posted because it lies somewhere in between Gage's account and Robinson's account. All the 'history' of this period is myth making.

          I used to be Snow White. And then I drifted. - Mae West

          by CherryTheTart on Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 05:51:27 PM PDT

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          •  Frustrating (1+ / 0-)
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            I guess I'm frustrated by what sounds to me like a cavalier attitude towards historical truths. Sure, any recreation of history is an approximation, but it's not just arbitrary -- we can't ethically just pick and choose on esthetic grounds which history we wish were true. I think it's important to remember that Sojourner Truth chose her freedwoman's last name for a reason, and honor that.

            When one engages in myth-making, we can make up any supernatural thing we want. Historiography is both more circumscribed and more inspiring than myth-making to me, because we're examining the complexities of real people who really lived, loved, and tried to make meaning of their world. I hope we aspire to practice history by examining, as best we can, based on the best available evidence: what kinds of oppression people faced, what kinds of power people wielded, what kinds of lives they chose to live given these conditions, and how individually and collectively they chose to support and/or resist the injustices of the day.

            Truth on that day was addressing a women's rights convention, she was apparently less than sure of herself (she asked permission to speak), and so was trying to find her voice. Let's try to listen to the voice she used, as best as we can reconstruct it, not just the voice we want to hear.

            Nell Irvin Painter challenged her readers to understand Sojourner Truth as a person and not just a symbol. I agree with Painter that we owe her at least that much.

            Gage was trying to reiterate a speech she had heard a dozen years before. There are some speeches I've heard a dozen years ago that I could relate approximations to you in part, but how precisely would I be able to convey the actual words that the speaker uttered? Not very. The version you presented is essentially Gage's version.

            It is not, based on current historical evidence, the closest approximation of what Truth said. Truth almost assuredly never said "Ain't I a woman." Yes, Gage came up with a great catch-phrase, a powerful declaration that I believe she was trying to make in solidarity with black women's humanity as a whole. Unfortunately, she conveyed it in a way that was racist in its formulations and distracted from Northern responsibility for slavery.  But that phrase, and Gage's version of the speech, is Gage's truth, not Truth's truth.

            •  I think the moral for me reading this part of the (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              samdiener, CherryTheTart

              thread is that there is even historical truth to be found in historical mythmaking - i.e., why it was done, how it was done and what we choose to take away from it.

              "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

              by grannyhelen on Thu Apr 08, 2010 at 08:10:50 AM PDT

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              •  I Agree (1+ / 0-)
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                Studying how these myths get created and how they're used is a fascinating aspect of studying and understanding history -- and I think one of the best parts of Painter's biography.

                As I read your words, it gives me more appreciation for Gage's words - let's teach Truth's words as best as we know them (Robinson's version), and teach Gage's recreation of them, as problematic as they are. But let's not present Gage's words as if they were Truth's. It also helps convey how social movements aren't just about individuals, they are about the Robinsons and the Gages as well as the Truths. Teaching both texts would help us understand the abolitionist and feminist movements in which all three worked, and helps us understand how history, and historical narratives, are constructed.

                My only fear in doing that as a teacher is that students might remember Gage's catch-phrase more than Truth's words. The fiction might be more powerful than the facts. But I suppose that's not our responsibility: our responsibility is to teach the complexities of the truth as best as we can understand it, and engage with students about the meanings they make of it.

                •  Remember it was a fictional novel that gave (0+ / 0-)

                  what some would argue was the necessary emotional lift to the abolitionist cause - Stowe's "Key" was her answer to her critics who were claiming that she was lying because it was fiction.

                  There are embellishments in all sorts of events (and Sarah Palin's wardrobe ;-) )

                  I think you're completely on the right track by presenting both versions and the critique of Gage's.

                  "The revolution's just an ethical haircut away..." Billy Bragg

                  by grannyhelen on Thu Apr 08, 2010 at 08:43:25 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

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