At Your Service: Nov. 4, 2009

On Sunday evening, I took a Halloween Journey, an extraordinary and magical adventure presented by Kids in the Katskills. Along the way, I had an up-close and personal encounter with Sojourner Truth. Born a slave on the Hardenbergh estate in Ulster County, she became many things after gaining her freedom in 1827, including an advocate for freedom and justice. I couldn’t help but ponder what she would think of the times in which we are living.
Certainly, she would be proud of the White House’s current occupants. Much of her life’s work was devoted to the abolitionist movement; she frequently gave witness to the cruelties of slavery. Still, I think she would be surprised that it took so long. She worked tirelessly following the Civil War to establish new settlements in the West for former slaves and aided them in building new lives in existing states. At the time of her death, former slaves and other freemen had been elected to public office in several states and were active in the political process. The Jim Crow laws that would stop that progress had not yet come into being.
The woman who fought equally hard for women’s rights, I think would marvel at the situations women find themselves in now. Her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech proclaimed for all women the rights of privilege – to be loved and protected by men rather than used and abused for commerce. That 90 years after winning the right to vote, almost every woman would have a job at some point in her life, work longer hours than men, later into their years, for a little over half the pay and still perform the bulk of the work at home would undoubtedly seem ironic to her.
Sojourner would appreciate the culture of celebrity that is supported by the Internet and plethora of media outlets. She was famous and influential most of her life, including meetings at the White House with Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Her primary source of income was the book recounting her life story; which she sold following her speaking engagements. On the other hand, she would probably not understand the desire for fame unto itself; she believed herself to be on a mission from God, blessed with the gift of oratory.
It follows that she would be baffled by the content of modern media. In an age when the facts can easily be overwhelmed by information, her commitment to the truth would have been challenged daily. Almost surely she would have a blog, Facebook page and probably Twitter as well; unlike most other celebrities, however, she would certainly write the content herself.
Sojourner Truth was a woman who never gave up in the face of unspeakable horrors. She twice used the legal system to win her cause when wronged (to return her son from slavery after his illegal sale and to restore her good name after a libelous accusation of murder.) Her faith gave her a clear perspective on right and wrong; which bolstered her continuous fight for those who could not find their voice.
In the moonlight on the banks of the Esopus, I took a different look at the times in which I live and gained a different perspective. Through the eyes of Sojourner Truth I saw many of the challenges we face. Even more, I see the opportunities our history promises to those willing to stand up for what they believe.
Data Source: The Institute on Women, “Most Recent Labor Statistics,” September, 2009.