Sojourner Truth

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Summarize Sojourner Truth’s message to the women's rights convention. How is this message similar to and different from the message the reader and the crowd might expect from her?

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Frances Gage's 1863 account of Sojourner Truth's famous speech actually appeared twelve years after the speech, which was given at an 1851 women's rights meeting in Ohio. Gage's transcription of the speech is probably not entirely accurate, especially in style. But we can get a good idea of audience reactions to Truth and the main message of her talk. Let's look at these.

Gage was serving as president of the convention, and the audience was very much against allowing Truth to speak. Many people thought that a message from her would confuse the issues of women's rights and abolition and harm the women's rights effort. “Don't let her speak,” they cried. “It will ruin us.” Gage, however, refused to make a decision on the first day. Truth sat quietly and calmly against a wall.

On the following day, Truth got up to speak, and several people again appealed to Gage to prevent it. But Truth moved toward the front and looked directly at Gage. Gage decided to let her speak. There was a tumult among the crowd at first, according to Gage, but then silence fell, and everyone listened. Truth did not speak loudly, but her voice still carried.

According to Gage, Sojourner Truth made a passionate plea that she, too, is a woman. She is as strong as a man, but she tells the men that they need not be afraid of women having rights. Women's rights won't take away from men's rights, and if a woman sinned first, well, then, women should have the chance to make that sin right. Jesus, after all, never spurned women, and a woman gave birth to Him.

This message was probably not what the audience was expecting (perhaps they thought she would denounce slavery), but they applauded and cheered because it was just what they needed to hear. It was a simple speech but powerful (no matter how it is recorded), and Truth used a clear and practical reason that moved hearts and minds. People who had opposed her before congratulated her now and vigorously, too.

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