How Sojourner Truth’s words remain crucial decades later

The American abolitionist and women’s rights activist whose speeches are just as powerful today.

By Melanie Oliva

Sojourner Truth’s speeches and advocacy for Black lives hold just as much importance decades later.

Born into slavery, in 1826 she escaped and became a preacher once she was free. Truth advocated for women’s rights, prison reform, universal suffrage and against the evils of slavery. Truth did not know how to read nor write, but would dictate her speeches, poems and soon-to-be autobiographies in public conferences.

As a student who enjoys reading, writing and history, I wanted to share two of my favorite speeches by Truth. If you are an advocate for women’s rights, believe in the progress women have made and enjoy outspoken women in general, Sojourner will inspire you deeply. In fact, if I had the opportunity to have lunch or coffee with someone who is no longer alive, I would choose Sojourner Truth. She had her head on straight, wanted to change the world for all of us and she is an example of what an unfaltering advocate should look like.

Ain’t I A Woman? was the first piece I read by her a few years ago. These are the last few lines in her speech: “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.”

Truth defended all women, which is what impacts me the most. She advocated for women to be independent, resilient and to work together for a greater society. As we continue to live in a world where women praise each other rather than bring one another down, Truth’s words still remain candid. She was not afraid to speak her mind, on a personal note, I relate to her. As a brown woman, a first-generation college student and an independent woman, I often lack inspiration to keep going. When I have some free time, I love to read or listen to powerful women like Truth. Women that remind me of her personality are Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Arethra Franklin.

Another speech that I enjoyed reading was her inspiring piece, “Keeping the Thing Going While Things Are Stirring.” Truth discusses oppression Black women faced. Although Black men gained freedom, Black women were still a step behind.

My favorite lines in this speech comes from how carefully, bluntly and exhaustingly Truth pieces every word. “I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler, but men doing no more, got twice as much pay; so with the German women. They work in the field and do as much work but do not get the pay. We do as much, eat as much, we want as much. I suppose I am about the only colored woman who goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked.”

Truth compares, contrasts and reveals how much a Black woman can do — almost more than a man can — and she continues to be underpaid.Truth advocated for all women with similar struggles. To this day Truth is a woman worth admiring. She has influenced me in more ways than one. I remember reading her work in my women’s literature course and I was captivated by the way she delivered her thoughts. She did not have a platform, but she created one and used it to advocate for women. That itself is powerful to say the least.

These are just two of Truth’s popular and intriguing speeches. Although Black History Month has come to an end, let’s continue to honor Black women, Black artists and Black advocates like Sojourner Truth.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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