top of page

Ain't I A Woman! Tracing the footsteps of a trailblazer

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

The Writing of I am Sojourner Truth. Memoirs of a mad teacher, episode 10. The time Sojourner and I met at her grandson'Thomas' home in Battle Creek. MI in 2016 was the beginning of the writer's journey as a for hire freelancer. But freelancers fall into the traps and end up in the gaps.

The first thing my friend Tony yelled out as though he couldn't wait to test my Sojourner trivia score while unburdening my back at MIA upon my arrival from Battle Creek, was:

Have you memorized the"Ain't I a Woman" speech?


I yelled back resented as I got into the car.

Nooh!

Who says I'm supposed to? and got in the driver's seat.

Is that all she is to you? Do you even know what she meant


If you haven't yet, indulge yourself. Jump into the skin of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave


The title of the original first edition has been shortened and eliminated Northern Slave. This Narrative of Sojourner dictated to Olive Gilbert, her amanuensis and friend at the Association of Education and Industry in florence Massachussetts. Olive may have taken more liberties than we'd suspect but have no proof.


To memorize the speech, listen here to the Audiobook "Ain't I a woman?"


I can do as much as a man.

I have as much muscle as a man.

I can sow and shred wheat, sorgum, or any other grain.

I can shear sheep and spin wool, make cloth, design-cut-sew together a wardrobe.

I can knit and crochet sweaters and afghans.

I can cut wood.

I can cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I can keep a veggie garden.

I can raise farm animals.

I am the best farmhand.

I am the best housemaid,

I am the best at anything I do with my body, mind, and soul.

I am sufficient.

I only need God.

And my children.

I am Sojourner Truth.

I speak as God's child.

I once was trapped by the evils of slavery.

I walk towards freedom on a journey of a million steps.

I call for justice.

I am the law from above.

I call for equal rights for man and woman alike.

I call for reparations to even out the ballpark.


"Our nerves and sinews, our tears and blood, have been sacrificed on the altar of this nation's avarice. Our unpaid labor has been a stepping stone to its financial success. some of its dividends must surely be ours. " Sojourner Truth




While the Homestead Acts of 1862 and 1866 gave away 270 million acres, few freedmen could apply for the grant, improve the land, and if the land had indeed been 'improved,' file for a title deed. Really, who would benefit from this in an era when few could even find out about it?


This three-step process was certainly not advertised to the freedmen who remained under custody in camps where they were still treated like animals, fed to become docile. To their detriment, they were also ignorant of how they were still enslaved and were being played by the government to control their fate. Sojourner told the truth, but they refused to listen and threw her out.





She helped create and run an employment agency in DC. It placed many workers on jobs all over the north. But the young and the old remained and black families were yet to be.


Sojourner was more than a trailblazer, she was the Libyan Sibyl, a prophetic priestess, whose higher consciousness made her the voice of reason among the people on her plane.


To carry out her mission, she had to memorize whole scriptures, defy the logic of the best-educated men and women of her time, and win them over with her wit and whim so they could see things another way. Once her audience surrendered to her logic, she had them. They roared laughing and admitted their sins and sorrows right there and then.



My month-long visit to Sojourner's last residence, Battle Creek, MI, where I conducted the research for the timepiece biopic script of their iconic activist resident Sojourner Truth, hosted by her sixth generation grandchild, Thomas Mcliechey (a real gentleman btw) was a writer's dream come true.


I was able to make contact with the subject, the one and only, Sojourner, that gave me the confidence to write the first draft of the script "I am Sojourner Truth," following a previously agreed, but tentative outline, Writing is courage.





Any writer would know that you not only need all the facts and take all the notes you can take during a month-long study of your subject. You also need a connection with their soul, and only Spirit can take you there. Together, Thomas and I established contact with her daily as we traced and embraced her life in all its splendor and darkness.



And what of the people who have helped and hindered her.? They are the ones that witness her transformation best. By also meeting her freinds and foes, we learn why and how they shaped her life and can feel the relationship's' joys and sorrows.



She grew up in the Catskills, a magic place for a mind as fine as hers to meditate and find the beauty of creation everyday.


That was in 2016 and the film hasn't been produced by anyone yet, although I completed the first draft and the contractor copyrighted it with my author recognition and then removed it, That is why I proceeded to copyright it myself and will start a case, if and when the film I am Sojourner Truth is ever produced. And how can I prove it is based on the screenplay I wrote? I am donating it to the Museum in Battle Creek that Thomas supported.


Freelance writers and independent authors and filmmakers like me lack knowledge and can have a great deal of confusion and ignorance when it comes to copyright law. I have researched and consulted counsel but still have questions. I wrote a book to help myself and help others.




Freelance contracts usually fall through when the first draft is handed over to the contractor. Revision and editing, (the best part of the game is the second half, don't you agree?) are then simply ignored and omitted. If the writer wants to continue working on their own, they really shouldn't expect any more compensation. That's it. Twice, that has been my experience. But never a third time.


At that point the contractor could end the contract by saying they don't like it, or questioning the writer's ability to paraphrase facts. When contractors falter on the deal half way through, the freelancer gets, if lucky, whatever upfront sum was agreed upon, 30-50 percent.


The real work on a script begins after the first draft with the revision and edit, then comes the rewrite. These two bad deals have dampened my experience with contractors. So, back to teaching, it was each time one of my contracts ended or was not completed for lack of contractor fidelity.





I have not memorized Truth's famous 'Ain't I a woman Speech,' but I do wish to record and upload it to Angelaterga's YouTube channel as another episode of "The Ride."





The speech, given at the Women's Rights Convention in 1851 changed the course of history for women in America, whether black or white, single or not, feminine or not. It is a symbol of what Sojourner represents to the world. Whether Robinson's or Gage's version of the speech is correct or a mix of the two, you gotta give it to her.





Ain't she a woman!




One who could ...

  • memorize the scriptures from listening;

  • win the best farm-hand contest of the Catkills;

  • walk away from slavery;

  • meet Jesus Christ on Pinkster Day;

  • win the first court case against a rich white man after her son was illgally sold across NY State lines to the south;

  • become a preacher leader of NY's Perfectionists society and the Kingdom of Matthias;

  • sue the wealthiest for libel and win to her name;

  • named Sojourned Truth by the Spirit;

  • become an itinerant preacher to warn about the falsehood of religious fanatism

  • publish her autobiography; a second edition included "The book of Life" a scrap book of her life written after her 80s.

  • tour the country speaking in favor pf women's suffrage, equal rights, and abolition.

  • become a homeowner;

  • join the spiritualists in Harmonia and eventually transfer to Battle Creek;

  • be escorted to City Hall by the National Guard in Ohio in order to have her right to speak her mind;

  • recruit Black Soldiers for the Civil War (although opposed to the war);

  • meet with two Presidents of the United States (President Lincoln and President Grant);

  • desegregate public transportation in DC;

  • counsel and volunteer at the Freedmen's Village and Hospital in DC;

  • create an employment agency for the Freedmen in DC;

  • tour the country speaking in favor of reparations in the form of land ownership in the west;

  • join the Equal Rights Association;

  • agitate for people's rights until the day of her death and beyond.




All this after walking away from 'that evil practice of slavery, where she had bore 5 children but was never allowed to own them, much less fall in love or have a choice at all in life.




As an itinerant speaker, she taught sensibility to the Millerites preaching the end of times, and used her superwoman skills to earn room and board. Along the way, she developed eloquent speaking skills that awakened souls, whose whimsical wit piqued the interest of the best learned. Although not religious, she was a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, who appeared to her on Pentecost Day and washed away her carnal desire and become a bodhisattva.


Thomas was a favorite grandson of hers who lived for her, to see her shine.


Loss was no stranger to her previous self Isabella Baumfree. The child had lost both her parents, the first and only love of her heart, and was brutalized physically and mentally from birth, Although she had recovered her only son from slavery in the South, she would lose him to the sea where he went to expiate his debt.





No matter what, her spirit always remained pure because, from a young age, she had talked to God every day. The practice of self-awareness woke her up.


She would argue her point with God, then go on and try her best not to curse or get angry every day. God was always there for her at the shrine she created in the woods wherever she stayed. Sitting there in conversation with the God her mother said there was, she'd sing and talk about her good and bad thoughts. She'd then ask for forgiveness and replenish her love.


If she were here today, she'd have so much love to give that not even Oprah would get a chance to say hello. She'd beat any singer singing. And she'd be the fittest and strongest woman her age.




After having a stroke in her 60s, she even turned her hair black again and got rid of her arthritis from eating so many blueberries, a strong antioxidant. She would grow them, pick them, and make all kinds of by-products for sale. This enterprise got her on the road and in front of audiences again.


Even after Congress passed the 13th Amendment, she joined the ERA and went on agitating to wake people up about the mass incarceration of Black folks, as the unemployed and homeless increased among the Black population unable to make a living wage. She predicted the Exodusters' holocaust and called for equality in education and business opportunity.





Even after her abolitionist friends had deserted her, (after all, slaves were free!) and her two-year-long speaking crusade along the Northeast gathering hundreds of signatures in favor of making reparations to the Freedmen with lands in West. had proven fruitless in Congress, not even heard! she went home sick again but her voice continued to exalt the cause for equal rights from her home in Battle Creek,


Journalists flocked around her everywhere she made an appearance, being sure to get a Sojourner Truth story published, for great was the audience who followed the ageless priestess, Sojourner Truth, who defied even old age and spoke in favor of equal rights for all folks.


Today, her legacy and direct orders are to 'Drop in, Don't Drop Out' and agitate, speak out and speak up, and bring awareness to human rights across the globe.


If she were here today she'd say the natural environment and humans are one interconnected system of life and renewal worth preserving and deserving of life. She would also say it doesn't matter if you are gay or straight.



In my research, I found reason to believe that Sojourner had at least one same-sex experience at Mathias' kingdom. It is unclear but likely that Sojourner may have carried John Dumont's child, Sofia, her youngest when she walked away from slavery. Sally, the Mistress of Dumont, would make her bathe her and caress her but despised Isabella for having a proud spirit and took revenge on her and her son, Peter, a boy of 6. But she protects the innocent in the Narrative.




During the following months, Thomas in Battle Creek, and I at my country home, in Florida, between jobs, we continued to work diligently on her behalf, on getting her message out, and on furthering her interests. I organized my notes and followed an outline that begins in the middle of her life when she publishes the first edition of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave.


The storyline started with the conflict between Douglass and Truth when she refuted him out loud, yelling, 'Douglas, is God dead?







With his family, Thomas continued to visit the sights where his Grandma's statues were being unveiled across the US, and to create more memories of her in sketches, dolls, and T-shirts for collection. He was a member of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Organization of Battle Creek and hoped to see her picture on the big screen one day before his death.


Once the last word was written, I took a lonely two-hour drive in the countryside and was so filled with emotion that I couldn't let go. In the final scenes of the screenplay, the audience continues to discover parts of her life from the interviews and headlines she made, down to her last words from her deathbed.


Beecher Stowe was right when she described her.





When I agreed to write the biopic, screenplay on the life and work of Sojourner Truth as a work for hire with copyright rights, I stopped everything and dropped in for her. This was my dream. But my teaching seniority was on the line. In the following years I would become an itinerant teacher and a 'starving' artist caught between screenwriting contracts and the school year. After a few years, my health caved in.


It was by taking a leap of faith, one that would cost me my hips, and with great expectations, that I researched Sojourner's life by making anotations and summaries of every biography and story published about her and the people behind her that helped her move forward and those that hurt her cause.





In Battle Creek, I spent the days immersed in America's 1800s, from before her birth at the end of the 17th century to the end of the 18th after her death. TheAmerican period before and after the Civil War, when the loss of life and dissilusionment in politics brought the nation to this day.


In the wintry evenings of December in Battle Creek, I'd reread my notes and select passages to discuss with Thomas. Our talks about the events in Sojourner's life moved me closer to feeling her spirit in the writing while hearing her voice aloud in my head. Next to me, Thomas, with eyes wide open and sharp as the wind that blows in Michigan, would give his take on every matter of interest every day, as I wove togeter the web of her existence.


Thomas, what do you think she'd want me to say about this (whatever the issue would be)? He always replied, she'd want you to say the truth.


The first draft of I Am Sojourner Truth was a work for hire with copyright rights that was not honored by the contractor, In my exprience, once a contractor get a first draft, that's it. No more dough is left to revise, edit, and rewrite. The contract is broken, and the freelancer gets half the money agreed upon, if lucky.





Now I know what they mean by a starving artist! exclained Thomas when he heard about the broken deal. That has been my experience, twice. A new law to take the work of freelancers seriously went into effect in the State of NY. But in Florida…..


One thing no one can take away is the intimate knowledge of the writer who has thoroughly researched and uncovered the details, the nuissances, and the innermost feelings of the subject or hero with whom the writer lives during the span of time it takes to reconstruct a life from letters, newspaper articles, books, and pictures.


My stay with Thomas was everything a writer could wish for. I thank Thomas for making my dream come true. Semi-retired, Thomas made his rounds at the school where he worked part-time as a janitor while I read and wrote all day long, surrounded by his collection of Sojourner Truth dolls, books, photos, tapes, hats, drawings, article printouts. Always, there was coffee and good food for me thanks to her children's generosity. I am thankful.





From the eartly morning hours until the day expired, I read, spoke, wrote, watched, listened and thought of nothing else but Sojourner's daily life, the clothes she wore, the way she braided her hair, how she sounded when she sang and spoke in that funny low Dutch accent, her songs and prayers, her speeches, the people around her, the social customs of the era, the shibboleths used in daily language, her strength in body, heart, and soul, and her eloquence and magnetism as an itinerant talk show personality. What a privilege! Everything was discussed with Thomas while thecontractor never showed up once to get the inside scoop on his work.


Sojourner spoke no nonsense. People flocked en mass to hear her loud and strong roguish voice in such high places as Faneuil Hall, City Halls, big Churches, and in the open. People flocked to listen to her tell it like it is. Using metaphors and personal experience to prove her point, there was no one who could refute her logic. Many times, the authorities showed up to shut her down, but every time they did, someone would help her and she triumphed.




Especially just before the Civil War broke out, everywhere Sojourner went to talk. Angola, Ohio, is a good example, she was arrested twice for attempting to speak about abolition.


But she would not desist. On one occasion, the National Guard itself escorted her to City Hall where she did speak her mind only after singing the Star Spangled Banner accompnied by the Guard's trumpeters. That must have been quite a sight!


I can hear that thunderous voice of hers singing "...and the land of the ffree.'





Like spectators, Thomas and I visualized his Grandma's journey from enslaved to emancipator, from ignorance to wisdom, from disemfranchised to land owner, from obscure to turning down Queen Victoria's invitation to visit the Palace of Buckingham.


I cherish the time spent with Thomas, listening to accounts of his life and how he came to be Spjourner's number-one fan in the world. His life entwined with hers, tells the story of Battle Creek.


Besides being where Sojourner Truth lived from 1856 until her death on November 26 (Michigan's Sojourner Truth Day), in 1883, Battle Creek is the birthplace of the cereal industry and an important way station for the Underground Railroad.

Although her specch "Ain't I a Woman" is her most notorious, it only shows the tip of her essence.




On that day in 1851 at the Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, this formidable woman implied she was self-sufficient and didn't care for being carried across puddles, that she could work and eat as much as any man, that Man had nothing to do with Jesus, it was between God and a woman, to let woman try to turn things right side up again if it was all their fault, and that she was entitled to her own intellect as small as that might be.



But to me, the writer of I am Sojourner Truth, after evaluating her thoughts and actions, the most profound message she disseminates to this day is that whether man or woman, we all have the same rights.





Thomas! I'd ask from behind my laptop at the small round dining table cloaked in red, surrounded by Pepsi and Kellog memorabilia (Thomas was quite a collector),


What do you think Sojourner would say to ......(whatever the issue was), Thomas always said, "the Truth, she'd want you to say the Truth.




When she was ripped away from her mother's bossom, at 9, and auctiones with cattle, the low Dutch language she spokr gave the new dictators of her life an excuse to flog the child mercilessly until the blood ran from her back like a river in the snow. All for failing to carry out orders she could not understand and hiding behind the curtains.


The one thing that gave Isabella hope while being brutalized was staring at the stars each night to talk to her mother, father, brother, and sister who were also looking at the same stars and the same moon. She called her father to her and he showed up to tell her of Mau Mau's death.




Her mother had talked to her about a God who listened and made her promise to obey her master's orders. She obeyed her mother. She talked to God every day and was the best worker in the land: wonder woman on the field, in the wash, at shearing and weaving, at the stove, chopping wood, cooking and bathing the mistress, you name it. She stopped only to talk to God, from sunup to sundown. And all along, God was listening.





For most of her youth, she would curse, eat, smoke and drink like a man, sing and dance like a star and performed every chore on a farm from wheat shredder to wool weaver, from chopping wood to bathing the mistress.


While the Millerites in the northeast were urging dozens of frenzied people to give up their riches and repent before the aproaching Doom's day, Sojourner convinced them to go home and pray in a quiet place.


Her famous speeches and lectures were published by the audience, as reported on journals of the times, some in favor others not so friendly towards the topics Sojourner Truth abrogated.


To me she was more than a woman. She is the embodiment of a boddhisatva, one who trnscends the mundane and becomes holy: an acclained guru of the West,


As social activist, Sojourner carved her way into the culture with her famous 'Ain't I a Woman Speech,' but her work had only just begun to unfold when she pronounced those words.


The life story of Sojourner Truth embraces the spirit of the overcomer, an emanation of light on this plane that elevates our souls from the mundane.

Sojourner Truth bust
Written by Angela Terga and dedicated to Thomas Mcliechey

But this is not the screenplay but a book that was written by compiling memorabilia in text and imagery of the goddess, his grandma, the world's first black woman of character in the US media. Her character was not religious but civic activism for the emanipation and reparation that should have and needs to happen in America for there to be equity of opportunity and leveling out the field for all new and upcoming sons and daughters of the community.


Community by community.



Comentarios


bottom of page