Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Speeches by Malcolm X

Videos of and about Malcolm X.

Black Nationalism

Short Biography of Malcolm X


Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. His mother, Louise Norton Little, was a homemaker occupied with the family's eight children. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and avid supporter of Black Nationalist leader Marcus Garvey. Earl's civil rights activism prompted death threats from the white supremacist organization Black Legion, forcing the family to relocate twice before Malcolm's fourth birthday.
"When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Klu Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home... Brandishing their shotguns and rifles, they shouted for my father to come out."
Regardless of the Little's efforts to elude the Legion, in 1929 their Lansing, Michigan home was burned to the ground. Two years later, Earl's body was found lying across the town's trolley tracks. Police ruled both incidents as accidents, but the Little's were certain that members of the Black Legion were responsible. Louise suffered emotional breakdown several years after the death of her husband and was committed to a mental institution. Her children were split up amongst various foster homes and orphanages.
Growing up
Malcolm was a smart, focused student. He graduated from junior high at the top of his class. However, when a favorite teacher told Malcolm his dream of becoming a lawyer was "no realistic goal for a nigger," Malcolm lost interest in school. He dropped out, spent some time in Boston, Massachusetts working various odd jobs, and then traveled to Harlem, New York where he committed petty crimes. By 1942 Malcolm was coordinating various narcotics, prostitution and gambling rings.
"...Early in life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise."
Eventually Malcolm and his buddy, Malcolm "Shorty" Jarvis, moved back to Boston. In 1946 they were arrested and convicted on burglary charges, and Malcolm was sentenced to 10 years in prison. (He was paroled after serving seven years.) Recalling his days in school, he used the time to further his education. It was during this period of self-enlightenment that Malcolm's brother Reginald would visit and discuss his recent conversion to the Muslim religion. Reginald belonged to the religious organization the Nation of Islam (NOI).
Intrigued, Malcolm began to study the teachings of NOI leader Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad taught that white society actively worked to keep African-Americans from empowering themselves and achieving political, economic and social success. Among other goals, the NOI fought for a state of their own, separate from one inhabited by white people. By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted follower with the new surname "X." (He considered "Little" a slave name and chose the "X" to signify his lost tribal name.)

A born leader
Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad also charged him with establishing new mosques in cities such as Detroit, Michigan and Harlem, New York. Malcolm utilized newspaper columns, as well as radio and television to communicate the NOI's message across the United States. His charisma, drive and conviction attracted an astounding number of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership in the NOI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 in 1963.
The crowds and controversy surrounding Malcolm made him a media magnet. He was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace in 1959, called "The Hate That Hate Produced." The program explored the fundamentals of the NOI, and tracked Malcolm's emergence as one of its most important leaders. After the special, Malcolm was faced with the uncomfortable reality that his fame had eclipsed that of his mentor Elijah Muhammad.
Racial tensions ran increasingly high during the early 1960s. In addition to the media, Malcolm's vivid personality had captured the government's attention. As membership in the NOI continued to grow, FBI agents infiltrated the organization (one even acted as Malcolm's bodyguard) and secretly placed bugs, wiretaps, cameras and other surveillance equipment to monitor the group's activities.
A test of faith
Malcolm's faith was dealt a crushing blow at the height of the civil rights movement in 1963. He learned that his mentor and leader, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly having relations with as many as six women within the Nation of Islam organization. As if that were not enough, Malcolm found out that some of these relationships had resulted in children.
"I am not educated, nor am I an expert in any particular field... but I am sincere and my sincerity is my credential."
Since joining the NOI, Malcolm had strictly adhered to the teachings of Muhammad - which included remaining celibate until his marriage to Betty Shabazz in 1958. Malcolm refused Muhammad's request to help cover up the affairs and subsequent children. He was deeply hurt by the deception of Muhammad, whom he had considered a living prophet. Malcolm also felt guilty about the masses he had led to join the NOI, which he now felt was a fraudulent organization built on too many lies to ignore.
Shortly after his shocking discovery, Malcolm received criticism for a comment he made regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. "[Kennedy] never foresaw that the chickens would come home to roost so soon," said Malcolm. After the statement, Elijah Muhammad "silenced" Malcolm for 90 days. Malcolm, however, suspected he was silenced for another reason. In March 1964 Malcolm terminated his relationship with the NOI. Unable to look past Muhammad's deception, Malcolm decided to found his own religious organization, the Muslim Mosque, Inc.

A new awakening
That same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The trip proved life altering. For the first time, Malcolm shared his thoughts and beliefs with different cultures, and found the response to be overwhelmingly positive. When he returned, Malcolm said he had met "blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers." He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration and a new hope for the future. This time when Malcolm spoke, instead of just preaching to African-Americans, he had a message for all races.
"Human rights are something you were born with. Human rights are your God-given rights. Human rights are the rights that are recognized by all nations of this earth."
After Malcolm resigned his position in the Nation of Islam and renounced Elijah Muhammad, relations between the two had become increasingly volatile. FBI informants working undercover in the NOI warned officials that Malcolm had been marked for assassination. (One undercover officer had even been ordered to help plant a bomb in Malcolm's car).
After repeated attempts on his life, Malcolm rarely traveled anywhere without bodyguards. On February 14, 1965 the home where Malcolm, Betty and their four daughters lived in East Elmhurst, New York was firebombed. Luckily, the family escaped physical injury.
The legacy of "X"
One week later, however, Malcolm's enemies were successful in their ruthless attempt. At a speaking engagement in the Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 three gunmen rushed Malcolm onstage. They shot him 15 times at close range. The 39-year-old was pronounced dead on arrival at New York's Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
"Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action."
Fifteen hundred people attended Malcolm's funeral in Harlem on February 27, 1965 at the Faith Temple Church of God in Christ (now Child's Memorial Temple Church of God in Christ). After the ceremony, friends took the shovels away from the waiting gravediggers and buried Malcolm themselves.
Later that year, Betty gave birth to their twin daughters.
Malcolm's assassins, Talmadge Hayer, Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1966. The three men were all members of the Nation of Islam.
The legacy of Malcolm X has moved through generations as the subject of numerous documentaries, books and movies. A tremendous resurgence of interest occurred in 1992 when director Spike Lee released the acclaimed movie, Malcolm X. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Denzel Washington) and Best Costume Design.
Malcolm X is buried at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Online Videos About African American Churches















The Black Church - Lecture Notes



Many contended that all African religious traces were lost because of slavery in the USA.

Others, more recently, contend that Africans from diverse cultures and religious traditions, forcibly transported to America as slaves, retained many African customs even as they converted to Christianity.

The information existed all along but was ignored as the myth of “white deliverance of Africans” was accepted blindly.

Slave owners feared drum communication codes and the medical abilities of slave priests. Both were banned, but had to be banned because they were popular.  Immunization against small pox was one example.

Funeral rights were an example of where African traditions were retained.

First stage African worship: not Christian, but identifiable.
“Ring shout,” was an example.
Second stage: Christian and African traditions mixed.
Groups that tried to suppress African elements grew more slowly than those that did not.
Conversion was an experience unknown to African descendants, so reports of Christian conversion were largely fictitious.  To African Americans at this time, they would internalize what they experienced, but were not strictly “converted.”
Slave owners thought that converted slaves were more docile and easier to manage, which was also a myth.
Christian “conversion” did not change African worldviews, where there is a spiritual element to all things and creatures.
Third stage: the Great Awakening. 
The heightened spiritual dimension of the Great Awakening made it more attractive to African Americans.

Surviving traditions:
Shouting, spirit possession.
Spiritual music: many lyrics, beats and tones from Africa.
Church as extended family, brothers and sisters in Christ. Trying to create extended family of the African village.
Keep elders in office until the end, learn from them. No retirement for the experienced.
Flowery speeches of praise for elders, an African tradition.

Many African religious beliefs were right at home with Christianity.
God is: omniscient, omnipotent, just, and providential.
Reap what you sow.
Selective interpretation and acceptance of the Bible, especially about the punishment of the wicked even if they worship. Slave masters beware.
African terms of the high god matched well with Old Testament conceptions.
God is providential a deliverer in times of need and dispenser of ultimate justice.

Three new elements: Jesus, hell, the Bible as the word of God.

African Americans could identify with Jesus because he had been oppressed and had suffered for others. He was also a means to approach the high god, a common concept in African religions.
The high god could not be approached directly, it was ineffable and incomprehensible. Thus, you needed a way to approach. Problems should be solved, but any problem might eventually be solved by the high god.

African Americans had no native idea of Hell. But when evil slave masters died peacefully, and in prosperity, they came to accept that they went to a terrible punishment.  No matter your station in life, you go to the reward you have earned.

Bible: African American religious traditions have been oral and many were lost. But, they were open to learn more and discover more. In the Bible they found many parts that appealed to them, Moses and the opposition to slavery, the nobility of the humble and the generous, etc. Because they had great oral comprehension, once heard Bible tracts were often internalized.

1619-1750 The Silent Years

After a spirit is freed by the intervention of Christ, the bonds on the body still remain. This was often law, as in Virginia.
Slave spiritual gatherings were banned, because they naturally took place.
Reasons for no time for meetings:
1.     More time for work
2.     It might be a conspiracy
3.     They might be hatching rebellion

In New England African Americans were not admitted to white churches because they would hade had to become full citizens, with voting and legal powers, since church and state were still united.  

In the South the “invisible institutions” of African American religion paved the way for all future Black churches.

Christian conversions were very limited and small in number. Christian clergy did not want to be sent into the south, as there was little opportunity.

But, African Americans were interested in Christianity:
1.     They were open to differences in belief, based on integration of different beliefs when in Africa. They were curious.
2.     They found parts of the Bible that interested and attracted them.
3.     The free expression of African culture mixed well with the spiritual expressions of the Great Awakening.

African Americans hid their meetings as best they could from slave masters.
When Christian influences were included, it did not mean a decline in African influences.

1750-1800 First Black Congregations

First Great Awakening brought an acceptable form of Christianity to many African Americans.

Because there was no national organization, many African American congregations were independent. Thus, they could develop on their own, or create partnerships with other nearby churches.

A strong of great black preachers arose, who were powerful members of the community and even appealed to whites.  Some audiences were actually mixed. Visiting preachers were common.

The particularities of black worship became a bit concerning to whites, who wanted more formality and quiet. This caused the churches to remain separate.


Born free, freed, indentured servant, apprentice, etc.
Most Northern churches only elected those who were born free or freed.
White owners of slaves were not welcome at threes churches.
Because there were such barriers to literacy, literacy was often the key to leadership and organization.
But, those with outstanding verbal skills still could be great church leaders.
Congregations tended to organize along economic lines as well, especially in the North.
Major black denominations did not support female pastors.

1801-1840 Churches grow in the North.
Also huge growth in the South, but mostly invisible and underground.

1841-1865 Denominational bodies grow.
Denominations supported existing churches and created more.
They also formed bases for supporting abolition where they could.
Colored Methodist Episcopal
African Methodist Episcopal
AME Zion
Union Church of Africans
African Baptist Church

There was some limited cooperation between black and white churches, especially about abolition.


After the abolition of slavery the African American churches remain separate. All else was separate, so churches would be as well. Legal barriers were down, but it was still not fashionable to worship god together.

African American churches flourished during the early 20th Century:
1.     They were a place for community, replacing the village in that role.
2.     They were a substitute for a government that did not want to include them.
3.     They were a repository of traditional practice that maintained cultural integrity.
4.     Respect for ancestors made people want to attend the same church their parents had attended.
5.     It was a training ground for leadership that would spark the civil rights movement.
6.     It was a tended garden where rhetorical traditions could grow and develop.


Assumptions about African American religion:
1.     Religion helps shape worldview
2.     Indigenous sacred music of African Americans is tightly woven in text and performance with the lived experience of individuals
3.     Linguistic meanings and insights into cultural communities are produced through music
4.     Pervasiveness of “nommo” permeates all aspects of African American life.

Black spirituals are rooted in the slave experience p. 59

African American spirituals:
1.     Give comfort to the self
2.     Coping with life’s difficulties
3.     Conveying important messages to the group
4.     Promise of relief after judgment
5.     Send messages about escapes, rebellions and resistance

1.     Not static, but changing
2.     Often in their own vernacular language
3.     Call and response allows participation with the community
4.     Share personal experience with the community. Someone might pick a song as ask for it to be sung, or the preacher would pick an appropriate song.
5.     Communicate self worth, belonging, and the inevitability of justice.

78% of all African Americans are churched. Most in the black church.

Black spirituals express a view of cosmology:
1.     First name basis with god through Jesus.
2.     They share experiences and suffering with Jesus
3.     Experience builds to more intense level, where personal affirmation, confession and conversion can take place.
4.     They sing of suffering all around
5.     Binding connection with the past p. 6

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lecture: Garvey & Garveyism

Marcus Garvey SquareImage by howieluvzus via Flickr

Garvey and Garveyism

Marcus Garvey shared the Biblical cycle of enslavement, liberation and development. He borrowed from the concept of the Jewish enslavement in the Bible, and looked to that example in a search for identity, consolidation and development. However, his theory of natural rights comes not from the Bible, but from a lack of it. Christian rhetoric was used to gain the attention of church going Blacks.

SONS OF HAM: Cursed son of Noah, burned by the sun, bears that mark. An attempt by pro-slavery Christians to justify slavery with a Biblical explanation. In 1883 Crummel issued his response to these theories:

1. Curse was pronounced upon Canaan, not on Ham.

2. Curse fell upon Canaan, had effects, but not on Ham.

3. Neither Ham nor his three sons were involved in this curse.

4. Negro race is not descended from Canaan.

5. Slavery is not uniquely a condition of Negroes.

6. Canaan is obviously not Gabon, Ghana or the Congo

Maybe the only thing they got right was the burning by the sun, but not intergenerational affliction.


IDENTITY: Who are we? Where do we come from? What is our past? What is our destiny?

CONSOLIDATION: All Negroes are of Africa and of one race. Africa for Africans at home and abroad.

DEVELOPMENT: Build the community, trade with each other, use and develop skills together, create business relationships within the community, create international African patterns of commerce.

BACK TO AFRICA: An outgrowth of work by Dubois and Blyden. Blyden had lectured in the West Indies about African repatriation in 1862 and he had influenced those who Garvey learned from. Africans came to English-speaking West Indies, gained skills through apprenticeships, then returned to West Africa.

EACH TO THEIR OWN: Races and cultures are different. They must make their own worlds. If they compete in the same realm there will be conflict.

p.135 top

p. 135 middle

p.135 bottom


African sense of social order was shattered by slavery.

There was no remaining God, but stolen gods of Jehovah, Allah and Yahweh.

There was no indication in history of rights and responsibilities.

African roots had been shattered by slavery.

So, in the absence of religion or ideology, and under the cruel influence of exile and slavery, a conception of the natural rights of all races was developed. P. 141

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Marcus Garvey and Black Nationalism Resources

Hear speeches by Garvey (only known recordings of his voice)

Garvey speeches read by other voices

Website to accompany the video we will see in class.

Two new videos are available at the password protected website
You will find them in the video category and they are labeled as "marcusgarvey" and are available for viewing by class members only.

Friday, March 5, 2010

New Videos Online - Sojourner Truth & Zinn's "People Speak"

Cover of "The People Speak: American Voic...Cover via Amazon

A short video on the life of Sojourner Truth and a section (dealing with African American issues) of Howard Zinn's video The People Speak are both now available for limited viewing on the password protected website of class resources.

The People Speak . . . the documentary based on the live performances of Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove's Voices of a People's History of the United States
This year, a documentary based on Howard Zinn’s groundbreaking books A People’s History of the United States and Voices of a People’s History of the United States, featuring music by Eddie Vedder and performances by Viggo Mortensen, Sandra Oh, Sean Penn, Rosario Dawson, Don Cheadle, John Legend, and many other great performers, will air in TV and be released on a special DVD. The documentary, The People Speak, shows the rich history of dissent in our history, and explores why it is so relevant and urgent today.To view the trailer, click on the following link: http://howardzinn.org/video/thepeoplespeak.mov The People Speak is working with Voices of a People’s History of the United States, a nonprofit started by Howard Zinn that seeks to bring to light little known voices from U.S. history, including those of women, African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, and laborers. By giving public expression to rebels, dissenters, and visionaries from our past — and present — we work to educate and inspire a new generation of people working for social justice.The goal of Voices is to encourage civic engagement and to further history education by bringing the rich history of the United States to life through public readings of primary-source materials. Voices works to remind people of the eloquence of ordinary people, as well as extraordinary and well-known figures from our history.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Frederick Douglass and the Abolitionists

Portrait of Frederick Douglass as a younger ma...Image via Wikipedia

Frederick Douglass Biography

original name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey

(born February 1818?, Tuckahoe, Maryland, U.S.—died February 20, 1895, Washington, D.C.) African American who was one of the most eminent human-rights leaders of the 19th century. His oratorical and literary brilliance thrust him into the forefront of the U.S. abolition movement, and he became the first black citizen to hold high rank in the U.S. government.

Separated as an infant from his slave mother (he never knew his white father), Frederick lived with his grandmother on a Maryland plantation until, at age eight, his owner sent him to Baltimore to live as a house servant with the family of Hugh Auld, whose wife defied state law by teaching the boy to read. Auld, however, declared that learning would make him unfit for slavery, and Frederick was forced to continue his education surreptitiously with the aid of schoolboys in the street. Upon the death of his master, he was returned to the plantation as a field hand at 16. Later, he was hired out in Baltimore as a ship caulker. Frederick tried to escape with three others in 1833, but the plot was discovered before they could get away. Five years later, however, he fled to New York City and then to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he worked as a labourer for three years, eluding slave hunters by changing his surname to Douglass.

At a Nantucket, Massachusetts, antislavery convention in 1841, Douglass was invited to describe his feelings and experiences under slavery. These extemporaneous remarks were so poignant and naturally eloquent that he was unexpectedly catapulted into a new career as agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. From then on, despite heckling and mockery, insult, and violent personal attack, Douglass never flagged in his devotion to the abolitionist cause.

To counter skeptics who doubted that such an articulate spokesman could ever have been a slave, Douglass felt impelled to write his autobiography in 1845, revised and completed in 1882 as Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Douglass's account became a classic in American literature as well as a primary source about slavery from the bondsman's viewpoint. To avoid recapture by his former owner, whose name and location he had given in the narrative, Douglass left on a two-year speaking tour of Great Britain and Ireland. Abroad, Douglass helped to win many new friends for the abolition movement and to cement the bonds of humanitarian reform between the continents.

Bill Grimmette portrays Frederick Douglass during Chautauqua 2003 on the Germantown campus of Montgomery College.

Bill Grimmette is a living history interpreter, storyteller, actor, and motivational speaker who has performed throughout the United States and abroad. He has researched and performed the characters of Estevanico, Augustus Washington, Benjamin Banneker, Frederick Douglass, and W. E. B. Du Bois, with appearances at the Smithsonian Institutions and on National Public Radio. As an actor, Grimmette has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Shakespeare Theater, and the National Theater of Washington, D.C., and on radio, television, and major motion pictures. He has an MA in psychology from the Catholic University of America, and has done post graduate work in education at George Mason University. Grimmette has portrayed W. E. B. Du Bois and Benjamin Banneker at previous Maryland Humanities Council Chautauquas.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree)

NAME: Isabella Baumfree (Sojourner Truth)


BIRTHPLACE: Ulster County, New York

FAMILY BACKGROUND: Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. Her given name was Isabella Baumfree (also spelled Bomefree). She was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation. She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine. Because of the cruel treatment she suffered at the hands of a later master, she learned to speak English quickly, but had a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS: She was first sold around age 9 when her second master (Charles Hardenbergh) died in 1808. She was sold to John Neely, along with a herd of sheep, for $100. Neely's wife and family only spoke English and beat Isabella fiercely for the frequent miscommunications. She later said that Neely once whipped her with "a bundle of rods, prepared in the embers, and bound together with cords." It was during this time that she began to find refuge in religion -- beginning the habit of praying aloud when scared or hurt. When her father once came to visit, she pleaded with him to help her. Soon after, Martinus Schryver purchased her for $105. He owned a tavern and, although the atmosphere was crude and morally questionable, it was a safer haven for Isabella.

But a year and a half later, in 1810, she was sold again to John Dumont of New Paltz, New York. Isabella suffered many hardships at the hands of Mrs. Dumont, whom Isabella later described as cruel and harsh. Although she did not explain the reasons for this treatment in her later biography narrative, historians have surmised that the unspeakable things might have been sexual abuse or harassment (see the biography on Harriet Jacobs, the only former slave to write about such), or simply the daily humiliations that slaves endured.

Sometime around 1815, she fell in love with a fellow slave named Robert, who was owned by a man named Catlin or Catton. Robert's owner forbade the relationship because he did not want his slave having children with a slave he did not own (and therefore would not own the new 'property'). One night Robert visited Isabella, but was followed by his owner and son, who beat him savagely ("bruising and mangling his head and face"), bound him and dragged him away. Robert never returned. Isabella had a daughter shortly thereafter, named Diana. In 1817, forced to submit to the will of her owner Dumont, Isabella married an older slave named Thomas. They had four children: Peter (1822), James (who died young), Elizabeth (1825), and Sophia (1826).

The state of New York began in 1799 to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves, which was to happen July 4, 1827. Dumont had promised Isabella freedom a year before the state emancipation, "if she would do well and be faithful." However, he reneged on his promise, claiming a hand injury had made her less productive. She was infuriated, having understood fairness and duty as a hallmark of the master-slave relationship. She continued working until she felt she had done enough to satisfy her sense of obligation to him -- spinning 100 pounds of wool -- then escaped before dawn with her infant daughter, Sophia. She later said:

"I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right."

Isabella wandered, not sure where she was going, and prayed for direction. She arrived at the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen (Wagener?). Soon after, Dumont arrived, insisting she come back and threatening to take her baby when she refused. Isaac offered to buy her services for the remainder of the year (until the state's emancipation took effect), which Dumont accepted for $20. Isaac and Maria insisted Isabella not call them "master" and "mistress," but rather by their given names.

Isabella immediately set to work retrieving her young son Peter. He had recently been leased by Dumont to another slaveholder, who then illegally sold Peter to an owner in Alabama. Peter was five years old. First she appealed to the Dumonts, then the other slaveholder, to no avail. A friend directed her to activist Quakers, who helped her make an official complaint in court. After months of legal proceedings, Peter returned to her, scarred and abused.

During her time with the Van Wagenens, Isabella had a life-changing religious experience -- becoming "overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence" and inspired to preach. She began devotedly attending the local Methodist church and, in 1829, left Ulster County with a white evangelical teacher named Miss Gear. She quickly became known as a remarkable preacher whose influence "was miraculous." She soon met Elijah Pierson, a religious reformer who advocated strict adherence to Old Testament laws for salvation. His house was sometimes called the "Kingdom," where he led a small group of followers. Isabella became the group's housekeeper. Elijah treated her as a spiritual equal and encouraged her to preach also. Soon after, Robert Matthias arrived, who apparently took over as the group's leader, with the activities becoming increasingly bizarre. In 1834, Pierson died with only the group's members attending. His family called the coroner and the group disbanded. The Folger family, whose house the group had moved into, accused Robert and Isabella of stealing their money and poisoning Elijah. They were eventually acquitted and Robert traveled west.

Isabella settled in New York City, but she had lost what savings and possessions she had had. She resolved to leave and make her way as a traveling preacher. On June 1, 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and told friends, "The Spirit calls me [East], and I must go." She wandered in relative obscurity, depending on the kindness of strangers. In 1844, still liking the utopian cooperative ideal, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts. This group of 210 members lived on 500 acres of farmland, raising livestock, running grist and saw mills, and operating a silk factory. Unlike the Kingdom, the Association was founded by abolitionists to promote cooperative and productive labor. They were strongly anti-slavery, religiously tolerant, women's rights supporters, and pacifist in principles. While there, she met and worked with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles. Unfortunately, the community's silk-making was not profitable enough to support itself and it disbanded in 1846 amid debt.

Sojourner went to live with one of the Association's founders, George Benson, who had established a cotton mill. Shortly thereafter, she began dictating her memoirs to Olive Gilbert, another Association member. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave was published privately by William Lloyd Garrison in 1850. It gave her an income and increased her speaking engagements, where she sold copies of the book. She spoke about anti-slavery and women's rights, often giving personal testimony about her experiences as a slave. That same year, 1850, Benson's cotton mill failed and he left Northampton. Sojourner bought a home there for $300. In 1854, at the Ohio Woman's Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio, she gave her most famous speech -- with the legendary phrase, "Ain't I a Woman?" :

"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? ... I have plowed, 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 woman?"

Sojourner later became involved with the popular Spiritualism religious movement of the time, through a group called the Progressive Friends, an offshoot of the Quakers. The group believed in abolition, women's rights, non-violence, and communicating with spirits. In 1857, she sold her home in Northampton and bought one in Harmonia, Michigan (just west of Battle Creek), to live with this community. In 1858, at a meeting in Silver Lake, Indiana, someone in the audience accused her of being a man (she was very tall, towering around six feet) so she opened her blouse to reveal her breasts.

During the Civil War, she spoke on the Union's behalf, as well as for enlisting black troops for the cause and freeing slaves. Her grandson James Caldwell enlisted in the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts. In 1864, she worked among freed slaves at a government refugee camp on an island in Virginia and was employed by the National Freedman's Relief Association in Washington, D.C. She also met President Abraham Lincoln in October. (A famous painting, and subsequent photographs of it, depict President Lincoln showing Sojourner the 'Lincoln Bible,' given to him by the black people of Baltimore, Maryland.) In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe's article "The Libyan Sibyl" appeared in the Atlantic Monthly; a romanticized description of Sojourner. (The previous year, William Story's statue of the same title, inspired by the article, won an award at the London World Exhibition.) After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman's Relief Association, then the Freedman's Hospital in Washington. In 1867, she moved from Harmonia to Battle Creek, converting William Merritt's "barn" into a house, for which he gave her the deed four years later.

In 1870, she began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land in the "new West." She pursued this for seven years, with little success. In 1874, after touring with her grandson Sammy Banks, he fell ill and she developed ulcers on her leg. Sammy died after an operation. She was successfully treated by Dr. Orville Guiteau, veterinarian, and headed off on speaking tours again, but had to return home due to illness once more. She did continue touring as much as she could, still campaigning for free land for former slaves. In 1879, Sojourner was delighted as many freed slaves began migrating west and north on their own, many settling in Kansas. She spent a year there helping refugees and speaking in white and black churches trying to gain support for the "Exodusters" as they tried to build new lives for themselves. This was to be her last mission.

Sojourner made a few appearances around Michigan, speaking about temperance and against capital punishment. In July of 1883, with ulcers on her legs, she sought treatment through Dr. John Harvey Kellogg at his famous Battle Creek Sanitarium. It is said he grafted some of his own skin onto her leg. Sojourner returned home with her daughters Diana and Elizabeth, their husbands and children, and died there on November 26, 1883, at 86 years old. She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery next to her grandson. In 1890, Frances Titus, who published the third edition of Sojourner's Narrative in 1875 and became Sojourner's traveling companion after Sammy died, collected money and erected a monument on the gravesite, inadvertently inscribing "aged about 105 years." She then commissioned artist Frank Courter to paint the meeting of Sojourner and President Lincoln.

Sojourner Truth has been posthumously honored in many ways over the years:

  • a memorial stone in the Stone History Tower in Monument Park, downtown Battle Creek (1935);
  • a new grave marker, by the Sojourner Truth Memorial Association (1946);
  • a historical marker commemorating members of her family buried with her in the cemetery (1961);
  • a portion of Michigan state highway M-66 designated the Sojourner Truth Memorial Highway (1976);
  • induction into the national Woman's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York (1981);
  • induction into the Michigan Woman's Hall of Fame in Lansing (1983);
  • a commemorative postage stamp (1986);
  • a Michigan Milestone Marker by the State Bar of Michigan for her contribution (three lawsuits she won) to the legal system (1987);
  • a marker erected by the Battle Creek Club of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs (also 1987);
  • a Mars probe named for her (1997);
  • a community-wide, year-long celebration of the 200th anniversary of her birth in Battle Creek in 1997, plus a larger-than-life statue of her by artist Tina Allen; and
  • the First Black Woman Honored with a Bust in the U.S. Capitol (October, 2008)

DATE OF DEATH: November 26, 1883

PLACE OF DEATH: Battle Creek, Michigan


Braude, Ann. Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1989.

Commire, Anne, editor. Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Waterford, Conn.: Yorkin Publications, 1999-2000.

Hooks, Bell. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston, MA: South End, 1981.

Johnston, Paul E., and Sean Wilentz. The Kingdom of Matthias. NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Mabee, Carleton. Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. NY: New York University Press, 1993.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. NY: W.W. Norton, 1996.

Pauli, Hertha Ernestine. Her Name Was Sojourner Truth. NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962.

Slave Narratives. NY: Library of America, 2000.

Stetson, Erlene, and Linda David. Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1994.

Stewart, James Brewer. Holy Warriors: The Abolitionists and American Slavery. NY: Hill and Wang, 1976.

Truth, Sojourner. 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. Battle Creek, MI: Published for the Author, 1878. Later printing, with introduction by Margaret Washington: NY: Vintage Books, 1993.


Sojourner Truth Institute

Sojourner Truth - Stamp on Black History profile

Sojourner Truth - Memorial Statue Project in Florence, Massachusetts

Sojourner Truth - Battle Creek Historical Society

"Ain't I a Woman?" Speech - Fordham University

"Ain't I a Woman?" - speech and history of, on About.com

"Keeping the Thing Going While Things are Stirring" - speech delivered at the American Equal Rights Association in 1867

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth - online text of her autobiography, at A Celebration of Women Writers

Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl - Article by Harriet Beecher Stowe, appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in April 1863

Women and Families in Slavery - links to essays and first-hand accounts and letters about the lives of female slaves

"Sojourner Truth will Become the First Black Woman Honored with a Bust in the U.S. Capitol

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