Sojourner Truth: What Time of Night It Is, 1853
This report is from volume 1 of Stanton, Anthony, and Gage's History of
Woman Suffrage. It is a brief account of Sojourner Truth's address
at the convention of 1853 in New York. It is sometimes called the Mob
Convention, because the audience consistently hissed at the speakers throughout
the convention. The text, like many others of Truth's were written later
from memory and from newspaper reports.
According to Encyclopedia Britanica's online History of Women [see http://search.
eb.com/women/pri/Q00161.html ] when Sojourner Truth "made her appearance
on the platform. This was the signal for a fresh outburst from the mob; for
at every session every man of them was promptly in his place, at twenty-five
cents a head. And this was the one redeeming feature of this mob--it paid
all expenses, and left a surplus in the treasury. Sojourner combined in herself,
as an individual, the two most hated elements of humanity. She was black,
and she was a woman, and all the insults that could be cast upon color and
sex were together hurled at her; but there she stood, calm and dignified,
a grand, wise woman, who could neither read nor write, and yet with deep
insight could penetrate the very soul of the universe about her."
Is it not good for me to come and draw forth a spirit, to see what kind of
spirit people are of? I see that some of you have got the spirit of a goose,
and some have got the spirit of a snake. I feel at home here. I come to you,
citizens of New York, as I suppose you ought to be. I am a citizen of the
State of New York; I was born in it, and I was a slave in the State of New
York; and now I am a good citizen of this State. I was born here, and I can
tell you I feel at home here. I've been lookin' round and watchin' things,
and I know a little mite 'bout Woman's Rights, too. I come forth to speak
'bout Woman's Rights, and want to throw in my little mite, to keep the scales
a-movin'. I know that it feels a kind o' hissin' and ticklin' like to see
a colored woman get up and tell you about things, and Woman's Rights. We
have all been thrown down so low that nobody thought we'd ever get up again;
but we have been long enough trodden now; we will come up again, and now
I am here.
I was a-thinkin', when I see women contendin' for their rights, I was a-thinkin'
what a difference there is now, and what there was in old times. I have only
a few minutes to speak; but in the old times the kings of the earth would
hear a woman. There was a king in the Scriptures; and then it was the kings
of the earth would kill a woman if she come into their presence; but Queen
Esther come forth, for she was oppressed, and felt there was a great wrong,
and she said I will die or I will bring my complaint before the king. Should
the king of the United States be greater, or more crueler, or more harder?
But the king, he raised up his sceptre and said: "Thy request shall be granted
unto thee--to the half of my kingdom will I grant it to thee!" Then he said
he would hang Haman on the gallows he had made up high. But that is not what
women come forward to contend. The women want their rights as Esther. She
only wanted to explain her rights. And he was so liberal that he said, "the
half of my kingdom shall be granted to thee," and he did not wait for her
to ask, he was so liberal with her.
Now, women do not ask half of a kingdom, but their rights, and they don't
get 'em. When she comes to demand 'em, don't you hear how sons hiss their
mothers like snakes, because they ask for their rights; and can they ask
for anything less? The king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows which
he prepared to hang others; but I do not want any man to be killed, but I
am sorry to see them so short-minded. But we'll have our rights; see if we
don't; and you can't stop us from them; see if you can. You may hiss as much
as you like, but it is comin'. Women don't get half as much rights as they
ought to; we want more, and we will have it. Jesus says: "What I say to one,
I say to all--watch!" I'm a-watchin'. God says: "Honor your father and your
mother." Sons and daughters ought to behave themselves before their mothers,
but they do not. I can see them a-laughin', and pointin' at their mothers
up here on the stage. They hiss when an aged woman comes forth. If they'd
been brought up proper they'd have known better than hissing like snakes
and geese. I'm 'round watchin' these things, and I wanted to come up and
say these few things to you, and I'm glad of the hearin' you give me. I wanted
to tell you a mite about Woman's Rights, and so I came out and said so. I
am sittin' among you to watch; and every once and awhile I will come out
and tell you what time of night it is.