Sojourner Truth, Ain’t I A Woman?

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March 9, 2015 by Sarojini Seupersad

"Sojourner truth c1870" by Randall Studio - National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

“Sojourner truth c1870” by Randall Studio – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

This is the first installment of my month-long series showcasing a wonderful piece of poetry by a female poet. I hope to do this for thirty straight days. For the first poet, I’ve chosen Sojourner Truth and her incredibly powerful poem, Ain’t I A Woman. I can’t think of a better person more suited to kick off my Womyn-powered series. Sojourner Truth, born into slavery, fought for her freedom and became an abolitionist, a suffragist and what we would now call a human rights activist. She is known as one of the most admired and beloved Americans in history. Sojourner Truth delivered this speech Ain’t I A Woman to the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, and while many full versions exist because several people took notes that day (they didn’t have cell phones then to record everything, sorry), this version was adapted from the full text to poetic format by Erelene Stetson in 1938.

That man over there say
     a woman needs to be helped into carriages
and lifted over ditches
     and to have the best place everywhere
Nobody ever helped me into carriages
     or over mud puddles
or gives me a best place…
And ain’t I a woman?
     Look at me
Look at my arm!
     I have plowed 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 to it —
and bear the lash as well
     and ain’t I a woman?
I have born 13 children
     and seen most all sold into slavery
and when I cried out a mother’s grief
     none but Jesus heard me…
And ain’t I a woman?
     that little man in black there say
a woman can’t have as much rights as a man
     cause Christ wasn’t a woman
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
together women ought to be able to turn it
     rightside up again.

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