WEP CHALLENGE, AUGUST 18-20, 2021, FREEDOM’S CALLING, CREATIVE NON-FICTION By Pat Garcia, @pat_garcia, #WEP, #amwriting, #writingchallenge
Was there no mercy for a child of nine years who, unlike others, was brought up in a home that had spoken a different language than English? Black skin, nappy hair that a fine-tooth comb couldn’t even go through, the child’s place was to listen and obey, but what if she didn’t understand?
Born in 1797 in upstate New York, if she had known the torment she would endure at nine years of age after being separated from her family, she probably would have cursed the day she was born and died.
Purchased by a family who spoke no Dutch, the girl spoke no English. Her owners, infuriated at her lack of English, beat the language into her with rods and leather. She was not a person for them but an unruly, disobedient piece of property that did not understand and therefore could not follow orders. She became an It.
For It, lashings became a way of life; the beatings hurt and left intolerable bruises. But It found freedom in the God her masters sang about. Later, whenever they beat her, she would pray aloud, hoping the God she had come to believe in would rescue her from the torture. He did.
Sold to a tavern owner, she went to live in a bar and house of prostitution. The beatings stopped. Here, she saw the cruelties against women and the ruthlessness of men. She discovered her voice, and it dawned on her that she was not an It but a woman, a human being.
Unfortunately, her owner sold her. Her respite in the bar only lasted one and a half years. The pause gave her time to refuel and strengthen herself for the unknown brutality that awaited her in the future. Being denied the right to marry the father of her firstborn child because a neighboring plantation owner owned him and opposed the marriage, due to the fact the newborn would not be his property, she had to marry a slave owned by her new master, an older man who impregnated her four times.
On July 4, 1827, the state of New York issued its own Emancipation Proclamation and freed all slaves, but the woman who had endured so many hardships, and maintained her toughness, and her faith in the good of humanity was already free and had already started seeking to find her thirteen children––the children she had borne that were taken away and sold into slavery.
During the Great Spiritual Awakening, she had a life-changing experience, which would change the way she lived and changed her name. This woman became a friend of the progressive Quakers; she spoke out for the Civil War, recruited black men to fight for the Union, worked in government refugee camps for freed slaves, and spoke out for women’s rights.
She made her most famous speech in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, held in Akron, Ohio. Let’s hear the address from the woman herself:
Ain’t I a woman
“Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”
Three days after Thanksgiving, on November 26, 1883, on a wintry, cold day in Michigan, this woman completed her mission at eighty-six years of age. She took flight. Isabella Baumfree, better known as Sojourner Truth, born and raised in slavery, died a free woman and Walked On!
Wishing all of you a lovely month. I hope to see you in October.