Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1800-1925: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview

ring demonstration, "she quietly asked them if they too, 'wished to suck'" ( Hayward, 1858:n.p.).

On another occasion, she focused her ridicule on the prejudices of her audience. Frances Titus reported the following incident which took place at Kalamazoo College during the Civil War.

When she rose to speak there was quite a commotion among the students. Some broke into hilarious laughter, some thumped on the seats, others hissed. Sojourner stood upon the platform proud and grand, her tall, unbent form had a slightly swaying, graceful motion, as she fixed her keen eyes on the audience. At length she addressed them with, "Well, children, when you go to heaven and God asks you what made you hate the colored people, have you got your answer ready." After a pause she continued in a deep voice like rolling thunder: "When I go before the throne of God and God says, 'Sojourner, what made you hate the white people?' I have got my answer ready." She undid the collar of her dress and bared her arms, to the shoulders, showing them covered with a perfect network of scars made by the slave master's lash. The effect was overwhelming. The confusion ceased. Hisses and scoffs were succeeded by a baptism of tears. (n.p.)

Almost everyone who wrote about Truth attempted to describe her. Graves, her grandson's playmate, wrote:

I knew Sojourner Truth and remember her very well. She was tall, thin and angular, with a deep voice and as I remember her always with a turban. Although illerate [sic], she possessed a keen mind and ready wit. She was a most impressive speaker, especially when dwelling on the wrongs and aspirations of her race. I can see her now addressing an attentive audience and extending a long bony forefinger to emphasize her points. (n.p.)

The "long bony forefinger" described by Graves and the reference to her "uplifted hands" by Rogers mentioned earlier were bywords repeatedly used to describe her delivery. Caroline Putnam also noted her "towering" and "striking form . . . in her turban." Besides her physical appearance, those who knew her and wrote about her often mentioned her quick wit and intellect, despite her lack of education and illiteracy.


CONCLUSION

Sojourner Truth understood that a public advocate needed to fashion an unforgettable image. She also understood Americans' appreciation of public advocates who were "full of shrewd wit and homespun resourcefulness" ( Lerner, 1957:802). She used wit and sarcasm to "scatter her enemies with dismay and confusion, winning more than victory in every battle" ( Narrative, 137). She fought for her causes with every weapon she had, and she remains one of the classic folk heroines of U.S. history.

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