Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aint I human?

Sojourner Truth.

I cannot imagine a human being who was born with the world stacked against her like she was. Yet there was that stirring of the spirit that asserted her basic right to respect as a human being. She challenged life itself, with the cry, ain't I a human being?

She was born a slave, a woman, a negro, in America in 1797.

Each fact is like a nail into a coffin, trying to tie her down to a life of despair and servitude.

She had 13 children, most sold into slavery. She was poor as dirt.

She was freed, and took to asserting the rights of freed men, and women at that time. I am a gay man. African. Born in the 20th century. The world is rosy for me in relation to Sojourner Truth. I have to assert my basic right to humanity, just like Sojourner Truth did against a society which degraded her as a slave, black, a woman, and poor.

Check out her biography on Wikipedia. And the speech that I am speaking about, a stirring, emotional, bald and forceful assertion of humanity and equality against overwhelming odds. And they were overwhelming odds. Read it in poetry form.

Nothing is more stirring to me, nothing more inspiring, than the story of this woman born to slavery.

I was born a free man. I was born with innumerable advantages compared to her. Yet I do have to assert my humanity in the face flak because I am homosexual.

I am a gay human being.

I have to note, and assert, and cry, ‘Ain’t I human?’ ‘Ain’t I a gay human?’ ‘Ain’t I a human being?’

We should adopt and adapt

‘Aint I a woman?’ to

‘Aint I human?’

Same thought, same fire;

‘Aint I a gay human?’


PS. Cindy, that poem is a must read for you. And for every woman in Africa.

A must read for every human being that is thought to be less than so all over the world. "Aren't I human?"

Check out the poem here.



Anonymous said...

Here's more on Sojourner Truth. She's a saint in the Episcopal Church in the US:

Sojourner Truth

It seems safe to claim that Sojourner Truth is the only person in the liturgical calendar of saints and worthies who was accused of murder, and called by one newspaper editor “the most wicked of the wicked”.
In 1832, Isabella Van Wagenen (Sojourner Truth) had been working as cook and housekeeper for Elijah Pierson in Manhattan. In that year, her employer gave up his devotion to evangelical Christianity, left Manhattan, and went to live in “Mount Zion”, the house of a utopian religious group in Sing Sing, NY (later Ossining). The group, later known as “The Kingdom of Matthias” had been founded by the psychotic, wife-beating, ex-carpenter Robert Matthews who termed himself “Matthias” and claimed to be a Jew and the incarnation of God the Father. The 35-year-old Isabella accompanied her employer and ultimately became cook and housekeeper for the group. She herself became deeply attracted and committed to “The Father” as Matthias was known, and, until she witnessed his lascivious sexual shenanigans believed that his interpretation of the Old Testament was the most valid and true of any she had known. (When asked later if she had been involved in the sexual carryings-on, she replied, “No! I was near forty; not handsome; and colored.”) The group at “Mount Zion” eventually numbered about fifteen.
Matthias was, of course, a seriously mentally ill charlatan, (he was called by one editor “part rogue, part fool, and part lunatic”) and when Isabella’s previous employer died at Mount Zion, apparently of poisoning, Matthias was charged with murder and put on trial. Enough solid evidence could not be provided, however, and he was eventually acquitted of the murder charge. (In fact, it seems likely that Pierson’s death was not due to poisoning at all, but to a previous chronic illness which saw him subject to serious fits and loss of consciousness.) However a couple who had been members of the community also accused Isabella, as the group’s cook, of trying to poison them. She was, of course, innocent, and she successfully sued the couple for slander, and won a judgment of $125.
With the downfall of the Kingdom of Matthias and having received the sum of money from the suit in 1835, Isabella was convinced that all her labors had been a failure and had been wrapped up in one great bundle of thievery and wrong. She resolved that she had to find a way to give up all desire for money and power and truly live out the Golden Rule. She first moved to Manhattan where she worked for a previous employer. In 1843, she decided to leave New York, moved first to Brooklyn, and then out onto Long Island, and eventually up into New England. When she left New York, she told her mistress that the Spirit had spoken to her and that she was not Isabella any longer, but “Sojourner”. Then she prayed for a name “with a handle on it” and the name came to her: Truth. So the world came to know her as the ex-slave Sojourner Truth.
But to return to the beginning: Isabella Baumfree (originally Bomefree) was born in about 1797 (no birth records were kept), one of 13 children born to James and Betty who were slaves to Colonel Hardenburgh – born not in the typical “slave country” of the deep South, but in the town of Hurley in upstate New York. Isabella never knew her siblings, because they had all been sold away into slavery. At the time of her birth, New York and New Jersey were the only northern states that still permitted slavery.
Upon the Colonel’s death, her ownership passed to his son, Charles Hardenbergh. Thereafter, Isabella was sold four times: in 1806 to a Mr. Neeley for $100; in 1808 to a Mr. Shriver for $105; in 1810 to a Mr. Dumont for $300. By that time, she was a valuable slave – standing 6 feet tall, and with the strength of a field hand. She was married by her owner – against her choice – to another slave named Thomas with whom she had five children: Diane, Peter, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Sophia. All her children except two died young or were sold into slavery in the south.
When it was announced that the anti-slavery law in NY would take effect in 1827, Dumont had promised to free Isabella a year early, but when he reneged on his promise, at the age of 32, Isabella escaped with her baby, leaving her husband Thomas and her other children, and became a runaway. She found refuge with the abolitionists Isaac and Maria VanWagener and his wife, who in 1828 bought Isabella and her child from Dumont in order to give them their freedom. In gratitude, Isabella took the last name of her benefactor and used it for 15 years.
When her son Peter was five years old, and just after slavery was outlawed in New York, Isabella learned that the boy had been sent to an Alabama plantation as a slave. From friends, she acquired enough money for legal fees, and filed a formal complaint with the Ulster County grand jury. She won the trial (the first instance in American history where an African-American won a suit against a white man) and her son was returned to her in 1828. Peter went onto join the merchant marine and apparently was lost at sea.
After her time in New York and her departure from the Kingdom of Matthias, she traveled widely and as an abolitionist speaker was much in demand. In the midst of her travels, Sojourner discovered and joined the Northampton Association in Massachusetts - an abolitionist, pacifist, and women’s rights organization. There she met progressive thinkers like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass (who once described her as “a strange compound of wit and wisdom, of wild enthusiasm and flint-like commonsense”). When the Association disbanded in 1846, Sojourner stayed in Massachusetts, moving for the first time into her own home, financed by a loan from a local abolitionist. In 1850, she dictated her memoirs to Olive Gilbert and they were published in 1850 as The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. The book and her effectiveness as a speaker made her a sought-after figure on the lecture circuit, and the income allowed her to pay off her loans.
For ten years she traveled and spoke, and she is remembered above all for her most famous speech, given at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851. Here is an account of that day by Frances D. Gage, the chairwoman of the Convention, written twelve years after the event:
When, slowly from her seat in the corner rose Sojourner Truth, who, till now, had scarcely lifted her head. "Don't let her speak!" gasped half a dozen in my ear. She moved slowly and solemnly to the front, laid her old bonnet at her feet, and turned her great speaking eyes to me. There was a hissing sound of disapprobation above and below. I rose and announced "Sojourner Truth," and begged the audience to keep silence for a few moments.
The tumult subsided at once, and every eye was fixed on this almost Amazon form, which stood nearly six feet high, head erect, and eyes piercing the upper air like one in a dream. At her first word there was a profound hush. She spoke in deep tones, which, though not loud, reached every ear in the house, and away through the throng at the doors and windows.
"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!" And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. "And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). 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 de lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' 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?…
…[Referring to one of the ministers present, she continued:] “…Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wan't a woman! Whar did your Christ come from?" Rolling thunder couldn't have stilled that crowd as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, "Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin' to do wid Him." Oh, what a rebuke that was to that little man.
Turning again to another objector, she took up the defense of Mother Eve. I cannot follow her through it all. It was pointed, and witty, and solemn; eliciting at almost every sentence deafening applause; and she ended by asserting: "If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let 'em." Long-continued cheering greeted this. "'Bliged to ye for hearin' on me, and now ole Sojourner han't got nothin' more to say."
Amid roars of applause, she returned to her corner, leaving more than one of us with streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude. She had taken us up in her strong arms and carried us safely over the slough of difficulty turning the whole tide in our favor. I have never in my life seen anything like the magical influence that subdued the mobbish spirit of the day, and turned the sneers and jeers of an excited crowd into notes of respect and admiration. Hundreds rushed up to shake hands with her, and congratulate the glorious old mother, and bid her God-speed on her mission of "testifyin' agin concerning the wickedness of this 'ere people."

When asked if she preached from the Bible, Sojourner replied that she couldn’t, since she couldn’t read. When asked further from what she preached, she replied, “When I preaches, I has jest one text to preach from, an’ I always preaches from this one. My text is, “WHEN I FOUND JESUS.”
Some detractors claimed that because of her height and deep voice, she was a man masquerading as a woman. At a public meeting in 1858, she was challenged with this accusation by a white doctor, and she promptly undid her dress and showed her breasts – and quelled the rumor once and for all.
In 1857, Sojourner moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, and continued her traveling and lecturing. During the Civil War she visited Abraham Lincoln several times in the White House, encouraging him to welcome Black soldiers into the Union Army, and shortly afterwards did just that — and Sojourner’s grandson, James Caldwell, was a member of the first Black regiment.
After the Civil War, she moved to Washington and worked with freed slaves in Freedmen’s Village She championed the giving of free land in the West to freed slaves, but never succeeded in that work. Washington had segregated street cars then, and on one occasion Sojourner’s arm was dislocated by a conductor forcing her off “white” streetcar. She refused to move until the support of the crowd that gathered forced the conductor to admit her – and segregated street cars were no more!
Finally, she moved back to her home in Battle Creek, and died there at the age of 86 on November 26, 1883. Her last words were, “Be a follower of the Lord Jesus.’, and her funeral at the Presbyterian-Congregational Church was the largest the city had ever witnessed.
Years before, when Frederick Douglass in despair and disconsolation advocated violent action to free the slaves, Sojourner stood up and simply said, “Frederick, is God dead?” — and those words were inscribed on her tombstone.
In 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Sojourner Truth and in 1995, NASA named the Mars Pathfinder rover “Sojourner” in her honor. It touched down on Mars on July 4, 1997 – the 200th anniversary of her birth.

gayuganda said...


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