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Monday, April 8, 2013

National Archives: 'Ain't I a Woman?'

President Abraham Lincoln "showing Sojourner Truth the Bible presented by the colored people of Baltimore, Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., Oct. 29, 1864"/Library of Congress

No women will be represented on a panel of four with a moderator when the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration hosts a discussion April 11, 2013 about the 100 years between President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863 and the 1963 march on Washington.

On its calendar of events, Archives says the talk will focus on "the continuing struggle for freedom, justice, and equality during Reconstruction, as well as the Tilden-Hayes Compromise and Jim Crow laws."

The four scheduled panelists are C.R. Gibbs, Clarence Lusane, Roger Davidson, and Frank Smith. John Franklin will be moderator. I suppose Archives couldn't find a
qualified woman historian from the approximately 6,000 who teach history in postsecondary institutions to join its panel. Oh, that's right: Women's History Month was last month.

President Lincoln's proclamation applied to all slaves, men and women, one of whom affected was
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), an abolitionist and a woman's rights advocate who worked tirelessly to improve conditions for former slaves and for women. In 1864 she visited the White House and met President Lincoln. No doubt she would be surprised to learn that more than 150 years later, women are still overlooked for important roles, even by federal agencies which are supposed to lead the way, I thought, for the rest of the nation.

Sojourner Truth was the first black woman to be honored with a bust at the U.S. Capitol (2009).
Ain't it 2013, National Archives?  

Below is a portion of Truth's "Ain't I a Woman" speech delivered at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron in the 1850s, as recalled by Frances Dana Barker Gage, and cited at Wikipedia:

"Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!"

And raising herself to her full height, and her voice to a pitch like rolling thunder, she asked. 

 'And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! (and she bared her right arm to the shoulder, showing her tremendous muscular power). I have ploughed, 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 de lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"

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