Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth

By Erlene Stetson; Linda David | Go to book overview

Harriet Beecher Stowe framed the encounter with Dumont differently. She remembered Truth saying that the meeting took place after "the slaves in New York were all set free" and that Dumont had come to the Van Wagenens to visit and had asked her if she wanted to go back and see the people on the old place.39 Stowe's frame allows the event a different significance. In her retelling, the great Pinkster festival took on the excitement of its free celebrants. This reframing casts into relief Gilbert's insistence, using the authority of Frederick Douglass Narrative, on keeping Truth's story in the slave narrative form. If the Pinkster holiday was being celebrated in the freed black community, Isabella's participation would have been part of the natural evolution of that community with its own customs and traditions into its place in the national life. Like most abolitionists, Gilbert had no imaginative conception of the ongoing life of the black community after slavery and no real political conception either.

At some point of Truth's trajectory from the white space of the Van Wagenens toward the black space of her old community, which was still subordinated to Dumont, she entered a liminal state in which a new identity of special selection was forged. On her way to Dumont's dearborn, she saw Jesus. At the point of convergence of the slave narrative and the conversion narrative, Truth's own visionary experience liberated her into a community of equals, in which Jesus functioned like an umbrella to protect her from the workday sun of the field. Even in the midst of her ecstatic vision the memory of that other field where white people abused you and beat you and abused your people was intense enough to stop the flow of "love to all creatures"; but the flow came on stronger, she said, until at last the white people were just white people to her. Before that, she explained later in a vivid image from the field, "She used to say she wished God would kill all the white People and not leave one for seed."40 Now she found she could even love them.41


Notes
1.
Stanton, et al., History of Woman Suffrage, 2:224.
2.
Stowe, "Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl,"474.
3.
Ibid., 473.
4.
Sojourner Truth to James Redpath, written from Battle Creek, 17 June 1863, published in The Commonwealth, 3 July 1863.
5.
Frances Titus included a notice, the source of which is unknown, that "Mrs. Stowe was mistaken in regard to Sojourner's ancestry. Her mother's parents came from the Coast of Guinea, but her paternal grandmother was a Mohawk squaw. The 'whoop' Sojourner gave in the horse-car at Washington was probably a legacy from her Mohawk ancestor" ( NarBk, 308).

-51-

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Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • One - Speaking of Shadows 1
  • Notes 24
  • Two - The Country of the Slave 29
  • Notes 51
  • Three - The Claims of Human Brotherhood 57
  • Notes 81
  • Four - Sojourners 87
  • Notes 120
  • Five - I Saw the Wheat Holding Up Its Head 129
  • Notes 156
  • Six - Harvest Time for the Black Man, and Seed-Sowing Time for Woman: Nancy Works in the Cotton Field 163
  • Notes 194
  • Appendices 201
  • Bibliography 219
  • Index 235
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