Narrative of Sojourner Truth
"BOOK OF LIFE."
preceding narrative has given us a partial history of Sojourner Truth. This biography was published not many years after her freedom had been secured to her. Having but recently emerged from the gloomy night of slavery, ignorant and untaught in all that gives value to human existence, she was still suffering from the burden of acquired and transmitted habits incidental to her past condition of servitude. Yet she was one whose life forces and moral perceptions were so powerful and clear cut that she not only came out from this moral gutter herself, but largely assisted in elevating others of her race from a similar state of degradation. It was the "oil of divine origin" which quickened her soul and fed the vital spark, that her own indomitable courage fanned to an undying flame. She was one of the first to enlist in the war against slavery, and fought the battles for freedom by the side of its noble leaders.
A true sentinel, she slumbered not at her post. To hasten the enfranchisement of her own people was the great work to which she consecrated her life; yet,
130ever responsive to the calls of humanity, she cheerfully lent her aid to the advancement of other reforms, especially woman's rights and temperance.
During the last twenty-five years, she has traveled thousands of miles, lectured in many States of the Union, spoken in Congress, and has received tokens of friendship such as few can produce. The following article was published in a Washington Sunday paper during the administration of President Lincoln:--
"It was our good fortune to be in the marble room of the senate chamber, a few days ago, when that old land-mark of the past--the representative of the for ever-gone age--Sojourner Truth, made her appearance. It was an hour not soon to be forgotten; for it is not often, even in this magnanimous age of progress, that we see reverend senators--even him that holds the second chair in the gift of the Republic--vacate their seats in the hall of State, to extend the hand of welcome, the meed of praise, and substantial blessings, to a poor negro woman, whose poor old form, bending under the burden of nearly four-score and ten years, tells but too plainly that her marvelously strange life is drawing to a close. But it was as refreshing as it was strange to see her who had served in the shackles of slavery in the great State of New York for nearly a quarter of a century before a majority of these senators were born now holding a levee with them in the marble room, where less than a decade ago she would have been spurned from its outer corridor by the lowest menial, much less could she have taken the hand of a senator. Truly, the spirit of progress is abroad in the land, and the leaven of love is
131working in the hearts of the people, pointing with unerring certainty to the not far distant future, when the ties of affection shall cement all nations, kindreds and tongues into one common brotherhood."
She carries with her a book that she calls the Book of Life, which contains the autographs of many distinguished personages--the good and great of the land. No better idea can be given of the estimation in which she is held than by transcribing these testimonials and giving them to the public. It will be difficult to arrange these accounts in the chronological order of events, but no effort has been spared to furnish correct dates.
In the year 1851 she left her home in Northampton, Mass., for a lecturing tour in Western New York, accompanied by the IIon. George Thompson of England, and other distinguished abolitionists. To advocate the cause of the enslaved at this period was both unpopular and unsafe. Their meetings were frequently disturbed or broken up by the pro-slavery mob, and their lives imperiled. At such times, Sojourner fearlessly maintained her ground, and by her dignified manner and opportune remarks would disperse the rabble and restore order.
She spent several months in Western New York, making Rochester her head-quarters. Leaving this State, she traveled westward, and the next glimpse we get of her is in a Woman's Rights Convention at Akron, Ohio. Mrs. Frances D. Gage, who presided at that meeting, relates the following:--
"The cause was unpopular then. The leaders of the movement trembled on seeing a tall, gaunt black
132woman, in a gray dress and white turban, surmounted by an uncouth sun-bonnet, march deliberately into the church, walk with the air of a queen up the aisle, and take her seat upon the pulpit steps. A buzz of disapprobation was heard all over the house, and such words as these fell upon listening ears:--
"'An abolition affair!' 'Woman's rights and niggers!' 'We told you so!' 'Go it, old darkey!'
"I chanced upon that occasion to wear my first laurels in public life as president of the meeting. At my request, order was restored and the business of the hour went on. The morning session was held; the evening exercises came and went. Old Sojourner, quiet and reticent as the 'Libyan Statue,' sat crouched against the wall on the corner of the pulpit stairs, her sun-bonnet shading her eyes, her elbows on her knees, and her chin resting upon her broad, hard palm. At intermission she was busy, selling 'The Life of Sojourner Truth,' a narrative of her own strange and adventurous life. Again and again timorous and trembling ones came to me and said with earnestness, 'Don't let her speak, Mrs. Gage, it will ruin us. Every newspaper in the land will have our cause mixed with abolition and niggers, and we shall be utterly denounced.' My only answer was, 'We shall see when the time comes.'
"The second day the work waxed warm. Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Universalist ministers came in to hear and discuss the resolutions presented. One claimed superior rights and privileges for man on the ground of superior intellect; another, because of the manhood of Christ. 'If God
133had desired the equality of woman, he would have given some token of his will through the birth, life, and death of the Saviour.' Another gave us a theological view of the sin of our first mother. There were few women in those days that dared to 'speak in meeting,' and the august teachers of the people were seeming to get the better of us, while the boys in the galleries and the sneerers among the pews were hugely enjoying the discomfiture, as they supposed, of the 'strong minded.' Some of the tender-skinned friends were on the point of losing dignity, and the atmosphere of the convention betokened a storm.
"Slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. 'Do n't let her speak!' gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great, speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced 'Sojourner Truth,' and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments. The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eye piercing the upper air, like one in a dream. At her first word, there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows:--
"'Well, chilern, whar dar is so much racket dar must be something out o'kilter. I tink dat 'twixt de niggers of de Souf and de women at de Norf all a talkin' 'bout rights, de white men will be in a fix
134pretty soon. But what's all dis here talkin' 'bout? Dat man ober dar say dat women needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to have de best place every whar. Nobody eber help me into carriages, or ober mud puddles, or gives me any best place [and raising herself to her full hight and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked], and ar'n't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! [And she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power.] I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me--and ar'n't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear de lash as well--and ar'n't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern and seen 'em mos' all sold off into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother's grief, none but Jesus heard--and ar'n't I a woman? Den dey talks 'bout dis ting in de head--what dis dey call it?' 'Intellect,' whispered some onenear. 'Dat's it honey. What's dat got to do with women's rights or niggers' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint and yourn holds a quart, would n't ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?' And she pointed her significant finger and sent a keen glance at the minister who had made the argument. The cheering was long and loud.
"'Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as man, cause Christ want a woman. Whar did your Christ come from?' Rolling thunder could not have stilled that crowd as did those deep, wonderful tones, as, she stood there with outstretched arms and eye of fire. Raising her voice
135still louder, she repeated, 'Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him.' Oh! what a rebuke she gave the little man.
"'Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of mother Eve. I cannot follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn, eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting that 'if de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, all 'lone, dese togedder [and she glanced her eye over us], ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again, and now dey is asking to do it, de men better let em.' Long-continued cheering. 'Bleeged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner ha'n't got nothing more to say.'
"Amid roars of applause, she turned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty, turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day and turned the jibes and sneers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands, and congratulate the glorious old mother and bid her God speed on her mission of 'testifying again concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people.'"
Mrs. Gage also in the same article relates the following:--
"Once upon a Sabbath in Michigan an abolition
136meeting was hold. Parker Pillsbury was speaker, and criticized freely the conduct of the churches regarding slavery. While he was speaking there came up a fearful thunder storm. A young Methodist arose, and interrupting the speaker, said he felt alarmed; he felt as if God's judgment was about to fall on him for daring to sit and hear such blasphemy; that it made his hair almost rise with terror. Here a voice, sounding above the rain that beat upon the roof, the sweeping surge of the winds, the crashing of the limbs of trees, the swaying of branches, and the rolling of thunder, spoke out: 'Chile, do n't be skeered; you are not going to be harmed. I do n't speck God's ever hearn tell on ye.' It was all she said, but it was enough."
She remained two years in the State of Ohio, going from town to town, attending conventions, and holding meetings of her own. Marius Robinson, of Salem, Ohio, editor of the
, whose clarion notes never faltered in freedom's cause, was her friend and co-laborer. She toiled on in this field perseveringly, sowing the seeds of truth in the hearts of the people, and patiently awaiting the time when she should help gather in the sheaves of a ripened harvest. At this time she attracted but little attention outside a charmed circle of reformers whose mighty moral power was the lever which eventually overthrew the institution of American slavery.
About the year 1856, she came to Battle Creek and bought a house and lot, since which time her home has been in Michigan. She still continued her itinerant life, spending much of her time in the neighboring States, especially in Indiana, which she felt needed
137her missionary efforts. An account of one of her meetings held in the northern part of that State has been kindly furnished us by her friend, Parker Pillsbury, accompanied by a note from himself.
"I inclose a communication from the Boston
, of Oct. 5, 1858, relating to Sojourner Truth. The wondrous experiences of that most remarkable woman would make a library, if not indeed a literature, could they all be gathered and spread before the world. I was much in her company for several years in the anti-slavery conflict, and have often seen her engaged in what seemed most unequal combat with the defenders of slavery and foes of freedom; but I never saw her when she did not, as in the instance given below, scatter her enemies with dismay and confusion, winning more than victory in every battle. P. P."