Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth

By Erlene Stetson; Linda David | Go to book overview

spell-bound until the lengthening shadows of the twilight hour made her departure safe for Canada. One remark she made impressed me deeply. I told her of the laws for women such as we then lived under, and remarked on the parallel condition of slaves and women. "Yes," said she, "but I am both. I am doubly damned in sex and color. Yes, in class too, for I am poor and ignorant; none of you can ever touch the depth of misery where I stand to-day."52

Complexities of framed response emerge. Gerrit Smith had authorized a paternalist discourse in which the white girls locked into the room with the "beautiful quadroon" were to be made into abolitionists. He framed them as subject to his will and as objects of his efforts at moral improvement. They were to order their relation to the black woman as liberator to exemplary slave, perhaps on the model of the famous abolitionist slogan, "Am I not a woman and a sister?" Stanton, the white female narrator (locked in), reordered the scene in terms of woman's rights, citing "the parallel condition of slaves and women," disobeying patriarchal law by repositioning the women side by side instead of hierarchically. Then, in a startling rejection of both these constructions, the objectified enslaved woman rejects their inscription of her in their stories and speaks her own story: "none of you can ever touch the depth of misery where I stand to-day."

Having been authorized to speak as an abolitionist's model slave and then as a white woman's sister in suffering, Harriet rejected ventriloquism to speak her own truth about race, gender, and class. Even when framed by the expectations of white recorders, black women like Harriet and Truth knew how to step out of the frame. They cast their own shadows. They raised their own voices. This is what we watch for, what we listen for.


Notes
1.
[ Sojourner Truth with Olive Gilbert and Frances Titus), "Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century"; With a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her "Book of Life" ( New York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1968 [ 1878]), 203. Unless otherwise noted, all references are to this edition and are abbreviated NorBk. This edition is still available from Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., Salem, New Hampshire.
2.
Sojourner Truth to Amy Post, 1 October 1865, The Isaac and Amy Post Family Papers, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, University of Rochester Library, Rochester, New York. Subsequent references to this collection are abbreviated IAPFP, UR.

-24-

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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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