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Sojourner Truth was able to prosper with her spiritual beliefs despite the trials and tribulations of slavery. Sojourner Truth’s stability was made possible by a strong belief in the Holy Spirit. God was the major source of guidance and will power from the beginning of the slave trade until the end of slavery. Slavery was orchestrated on a mass scale and caused the separation of many families in order to make sure that slaves would remain with their masters. Reverence to slave owners was considered to be sacred. Slaves were mentally programmed to believe there masters were gods. The wives of the slave owners were seen as goddess’s.
The continuous work routine Sojourner endured was difficult for males to accomplish. Considering slave knowledge was limited, in terms of the genetic appearance, beliefs, and language; slave owners could use this in a condescending manner to position themselves as gods in the eyes of Sojourner and other slaves. At this time she looked upon her master as a God; and believed that he could see her at all times, even as God himself.
Female African-American’s were kept from experiencing any form of higher learning; they were confined to common household chores- duties that were befitting of a maid. The majorities were sent to perform field duties. It is clearly shown in the autobiography of Sojourner Truth, written by Nell Painter, that Sojourner (a.k.a.) Isabella Braumfree was forced to do this type of work throughout her adult life. Meanwhile her life began to take shape in spite of the continuous restriction of her emotional growth. This was directly related to her mother’s beliefs about God and the magnitude of His power in relation to suffering and distressing situations. “My children, there is a God, who hears and sees you.” A God, Where does he live?” asked the children. “He lives in the sky,” she replied, “and when you are beaten, or cruelly treated, or fall into any trouble, you must ask help of him, and he will always hear and help you.” She taught them to keel and say the Lord’s Prayer.
Sojourner was rated second class by both her slave master and his wife. At the same time, the master was very appreciative of the slave that would work for days upon days without sleep. Unlike any other slave Sojourner would work whole-heartedly without any form of hesitation. Although Sojourner was highly noted as a slave she was always looked at as something that was disrespectful of a human. This oppression was motivation enough for Sojourner to become more ambitious than ever to please him. He stimulated her ambition by his commendation, and by boasting of her to his friends, telling them that “that wench ” (pointing to Isabel) is better to me than a man- for she will do a good family’s washing in the night, and be ready in the morning to go into the field, where she will do as much at raking and binding as my best hands.”
Sojourner was scorned by fellow slaves for her hard work under such barbaric circumstances. Her efforts to please her master caused fellow slaves to taunt her as being the “white folks nigger”.
As Sojourner grew older, men took interest in her despite scorning from the other slaves. Robert a slave from another family fell in love with her. He followed his heart instead of his master’s orders. Sojourner’s illness caused Robert to visit her during the day, which his master easily detected. As a result, he was brutally beaten. Robert was ordered to seek love from a slave within his own family. Robert obeyed an forgot about his true love. Sojourner got married, bearing five children for her husband. Sojourner lost one of her children which was a regular practice in the slavery period. Sojourner is led to believe her son is at another family close by her. Sojourner escapes from her master’s home, taking refuge close by. Sojourner was bought by Mr. Issac’s S.Van Wagener who gave her refuge. She is bought as an individual, not as a slave and is granted freedom.
At one point, Sojourner sought to reclaim her son. She struggled with the legal system and eventually was successful. Sojourner learns of the multiple beatings to both her son and the brutal murder of her pregnant daughter’s unborn child, then her daughter. “Heavens and Earth, Isabella! Fowler’s murdered Cousin Eliza! “Ho,” said Isabella, “that’s nothing- he liked to kill my child; nothing save him but God.”
Sojourner makes direct reference to God, that God can save anyone if belief is entrusted in God. She says that God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lighting, showing her, “in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over”- that he pervaded the universe- “and that there was no place where God was not.” She became instantly conscious of her great sin in forgetting her almighty friend and “ever-present help in time of trouble.”
Realization that God was everywhere and everything around her, with the faith entrusted in him was a possibility. Her philosophy was, “let others say what they will of the efficacy of prayer, I believe in it, and I shall pray Thank God! Yes, I shall always pray,”
Sojourner started to embrace her spiritual calling, after securing a safe home for her son Sojourner leaves for New York. Sojourner meets Matthias and is taken by his self-proclamation type religion. Sojourner preaches with Matthias for a short while: certain aspect of his theories is contorted to benefit himself, as well as the rest of the male population.
Strong spiritual convictions, a deep-rooted motivation, accompanied by a strong belief in God made her change her name. Enslavement would turn into freedom, illiteracy would turn into knowledge, and oppression would be reversed into being a national black leader. Brutal murders would become the backbone of her strongest arguments as an abolitionist in the fight for emancipation.
Sojourner’s spirituality was the guiding factor in her life and caused her to be one of the most outspoken women in the history of the United States of America.
Encountering the women’s rights movement in 1850, Truth added its causes to hers. She is particularly remembered for the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech she supposedly gave at the woman’s rights convention in 1851. Although Truth never learned to read or write, she dictated her memoirs to Nell Painter and created her “autobiography”.
Sojourner’s presence as a speaker, made her a sought-after figure on the anti-slavery woman’s rights lecture circuit. Sojourner Truth was a captivating, outspoken, and intriguing woman. Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin) attested to Truth’s personal magnetism saying that she had never been “conversant with anyone who had more of that silent and subtle power which we call personal presence than this woman.” The way she spoke appealed to a wide audience without sounding accusational. “Her humor let her listeners exempt themselves.” (Pg. 138)
At this point in time it was considered a man’s world so men did not want their power taken away by “arrogant” women who wanted the same rights. Especially black women. White men did not approve of Truth’s bold act of revealing her breasts in such a manner that belittled the men who tried to put her in her place. At that time whites believed that the color black was considered evil.
Truth’s views of women’s rights attracted white women and this supported the cause of women’s liberation. Powerful white women liked Truth’s aggressive way of raising concern for women’s rights.
In 1863, twelve years after the original speech, Frances Dana Gage published her enhanced version in the Anti-Slavery Standard (May 2, 1863). Gage opens her account with a description of the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, at which she was the presiding officer. Gage’s expanded description of the speech, and the impact it had upon the convention, appeared less than a month after Harriet Beecher Stowe published her article, “Libyan Sibyl,” in the Atlantic Monthly. These two romanticized views of Sojourner Truth helped to create the public image of the ex-slave – an image that lingers on today.
Nell Painter: Sojourner Truth
- ... Stowe published an essay about Truth called Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl in ... a difference Painter, Nell Irvin. (1996). Sojourner Truth a life, a symbol. New York: W W ... , Margaret. (1993). Narrative of Sojourner Truth. New York: Vintage Classics 325
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- ... without distortion. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth illustrates the hardships that were ... trials and tribulations of slavery Sojourner Truth was able to prosper with ... spiritual beliefs. Sojourner Truth’s stability was made possible by ...