“The world’s coming around to seeing black as beautiful. When I came up, they were laughing at darker people.”
A self-educated 6 foot tall abolitionist who changed her name from Isabella Baumfree, Ms. Truth played a large role in the women’s suffrage movement. From New York she traveled through New England and the West, moving audiences by her quaint speech, a deep, resonant voice, and a hatred for slavery which she expressed with a strange religious mysticism. Yet, she was a signal for outburst from racist mobs because she combined in herself the two must hated elements in White society—being Black and being a woman. Despite all the insults hurled at her at each speech, she remained calm and dignified and with the demeanor of being a grand, wise woman. Although being unable to read nor write, her deep insight could penetrate the very soul of the universe about her. In those days, when she was a woman working in the fields but accused of being manly, she bared her chest and said “Ain’t I A Woman?” By the time of her death in 1883 she encompassed all aspects of a truly free woman Lane said.
“She personified women’s rights, equal rights… the struggling and understanding that was taken away from us because of slavery.” First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the bust of Sojourner Truth sculpted by internationally known artist, Artis Lane, in Emancipation Hall, Capitol Visitors Center, Washington, D.C. , on Tuesday, April 28, 2009. This was the first memorial to a Black woman to be placed in the United States Capitol. Actress Cicely Tyson read Sojourner Truth’s most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman,” originally delivered at a women’s rights conference in 1851.
“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of k ilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talk ing 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 hav e the best place ev erywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or ov er mud-puddles, or giv es 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 five 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 y ou 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 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.—Sojourner Truth To help her prepare for Ms. Truth’s bust, Lane collected dozens of photographs and writings from Truth’s life.
Lane’s sculptures and paintings are in the private collections of Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, and other notables.
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