Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York. She escaped with her young daughter in 1826. After gaining freedom and going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win a case against a white man.
This is a lightly edited version of Truth’s speech from the proceedings of the first anniversary of the American Equal Rights Association, held at the Church of the Puritans, New York, 9 and 10 May 1867 from the National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection and Susan B Anthony Collection at the Library of Congress, United States.
9 May 1867
I am rejoiced that you are glad, but I don’t know how you will feel when I get through. I come from another field – the country of the slave. They have got their liberty – so much good luck to have slavery partly destroyed; not entirely. I want it root and branch destroyed. Then we will all be free indeed. I feel that if I have to answer for the deeds done in my body just as much as a man, I have a right to have just as much as a man.
There is a great stir about coloured men getting their rights, but not a word about the coloured women; and if coloured men get their rights, and not coloured women theirs, you see the coloured men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again … I want women to have their rights. In the courts, women have no right, no voice; nobody speaks for them. I wish woman to have her voice there among the pettifoggers.
If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there. I am above 80 years old; it is about time for me to be going. I have been 40 years a slave and 40 years free, and would be here 40 years more to have equal rights for all. I suppose I am kept here because something remains for me to do; I suppose I am yet to help to break the chain. I have done a great deal of work; as much as a man, but did not get so much pay. I used to work in the field and bind grain, keeping up with the cradler; but men doing no more, got twice as much pay; so with the German women. They work in the field and do as much work, but do not get the pay. We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much.
I suppose I am about the only coloured woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the coloured women. I want to keep the thing stirring, now that the ice is cracked. What we want is a little money. You men know that you get as much again as women when you write, or for what you do. When we get our rights we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough in our own pockets; and maybe you will ask us for money. But help us now until we get it. It is a good consolation to know that when we have got this battle fought we shall not be coming to you any more. You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slaveholder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again. I have been in Washington about three years, seeing about these coloured people. Now coloured men have the right to vote. There ought to be equal rights now more than ever, since coloured people have got their freedom.