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Posts Tagged ‘biographies of African-American reformers’

The American abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, in a rare photo taken c. 1840, around the time he became a runaway slave.

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895)

The following is an excerpt from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845), which includes recollections of Douglass’ experiences on a Maryland plantation:

“To describe the wealth of Colonel Lloyd [his master] would be almost equal to describing the riches of Job. He kept from 10-15 house servants. He was said to own a thousand slaves, and I think this estimate quite within the truth. Colonel Lloyd owned so many that he did not know them when he saw them; nor did all the slaves of the out-farms know him. It is reported of him, that, while riding along the road one day, he met a colored man, and addressed him in the usual manner of speaking to colored people on the public highways of the South:

‘Well, boy, whom do you belong to?’

“To Colonel Lloyd,’ replied the slave.

‘Well, does the colonel treat you well?’

‘No, sir,’ was the ready reply.

‘What, does he work you too hard?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Well, don’t [sic] he give you enough to eat?’

‘Yes, sir, he gives me enough, such as it is.’

The colonel, after ascertaining where the slave belonged, rode on; the man also went on about his business, not dreaming that he had been conversing with his master. He thought, said, and heard nothing more of the matter, until two or three weeks afterwards. The poor man was then informed by his overseer that, for having found fault with his master, he was now to be sold to a Georgia trader….

It is partly in consequence of such facts that slaves, when inquired of as to their condition and the character of their masters, almost universally say they are contented, and that their masters are kind. The slaveholders have been known to send in spies among their slaves, to ascertain their views and feelings in regard to their condition. The frequency of this has had the effect to establish among the slaves the maxim that a still tongue makes a wise head.”

Also on this blog: “Abe Lincoln: The Freedmen’s Monument

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Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), photograph by Mathew Brady c.1864

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), photograph by Mathew Brady c.1864

Born into slavery in New York, Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth’s given name) was an abolitionist and women’s rights activist. She spoke Dutch until the age of nine when she was sold to a new owner along with a flock of sheep. Eventually freed, she became a devout Christian and began to travel and preach about freedom.

Asking the Lord for a new name to reflect her new life, she claimed “Sojourner” was given to her because she was to travel the land and “Truth” because she was to declare the truth to all people.

Sojourner Truth was a powerful speaker. Her most famous speech was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. It is called “Ain’t I a Woman?” a slogan she adopted from a famous abolitionist image (See below.) The speech as shown here has been revised from the 19th century dialect in which she spoke.

When Sojourner got up to speak to the crowd, some men were present and they began to boo and hiss at her:

“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 five 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?

Abolition Movement poster

Abolition Movement poster

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? Where did 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.

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