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Memory of Our Mother's

mp3, 5.36 MBs, 6:42

[Col. recorded 7/13/02]

In a land and in an age in which the "bootylicious" is glorified, I am often amazed at what is ignored, forgotten, and unknown. As I write this, a student of history, I often surprise myself with my ignorance, as in what I don't know about something that should be second nature.

How many of us have heard the names Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, and
mixed them up in the mixer of the mind? Often, one has to concentrate deeply, and plunge into the thickets of memory to access certain facts that distinguish one from the other.

What a gross disservice to both utterly remarkable women, who, in any other culture, in any truly humanistic age, would be remembered with the clarity of crystal, and honored in every hearth and home for their sterling courage, integrity, and sheer wills to be free.

It is necessary to repeat the obvious truth that these were two very different women, who other than their race, and social status, bore perhaps very little similarity. That is not true.

Both were women of remarkable physical and mental strength.

One was short, stocky, and born in the slave system of the South. The other was tall (at least six feet) and wiry, born into slavery in the rural, New York state North.

But both had to flee from their captors for their freedom.

One, (Harriet Tubman) was born into a traditional African-American family of the time. The other (Sojourner Truth) was born into a family owned by New York Dutch, and Dutch was her first language, which accented her speech for the rest of her life.

Let us try to concentrate on the latter here. Born Isabella Baumfree, around 1797, at the tender age of 9 years she was sold from her birth family for $100, to a Mr. John Nealy of Ulster County, New York. In her classic recounting of that time in the "Narrative of Sojourner Truth" (originally published in 1850), she recalls the time of her sale and bondage to the Nealy’s sharply, saying, "Now the war begun". As she spoke only Dutch, and they spoke only English, they could barely understand each other. They responded to the resultant confusion with naked cruelty, beating the child so severely with cords that the scars remained all of her life. Thus was she introduced to slavery.

Years later, as an adult, she would fight back when her son was sold South, in violation of state law. Incredibly, she would recover him, after he had been badly beaten and exploited by the man he was sold to. She herself was exploited, and after a promise to free her went unfulfilled by her captor, she freed herself.

A deeply religious woman, she felt an inner, spiritual urging to leave her former life, and to embark upon a new one. The "Narrative" relates:

Having made what preparations for leaving she deemed necessary — which was, to put up a few articles of clothing in a pillow case, all else being deemed an unnecessary encumbrance — about an hour before she left, she informed Mrs. Whiting, the woman of the house where she was stopping that her name was no longer Isabella, but SOJOURNER; and that she was going east. And to her inquiry, 'What are you going east for?' her answer was, 'The Spirit calls me there, and I must go.' [p. 58]

She moved from place to place, preaching and occasionally working, in an age now called a Great Awakening, when religious and social groups were plentiful in the nation.

She went to Brooklyn, and into New York City, but she didn't care for the hustle and bustle, and money-frenzy of the town, which she later called the "second Sodom."

She is perhaps best known for her speech before a nervous Women’s Convention, when she quieted hecklers with her stirring "Ain’t I a Woman?" address, which has been reprinted and recounted countless times.

But the writer would like to briefly recount a lesser known occurrence, at a religious camp-meeting in Northampton, New York, when a group of rowdy young men began to cause a disturbance by "Hooting and yelling", and threatening to burn the place down (this was a tent meeting). Sojourner was terrified, and shrank into the shadows, thinking, "I am the only colored person here, and on me, probably, their wicked mischief will fall first, and perhaps fatally." And then, another thought struck her:

"Shall I run away and hide from the Devil? Me, a servant of the living God? Have I not faith enough to go out and quell that mob, when I know it is written — 'One shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight'? I know there are not a thousand here; but I know that I am a servant of the living God. I'll go to the rescue, and the Lord shall go with and protect me."

This thought gave her so much strength that she said she felt like she had three hearts in her body, so strong and so large "my body could hardly hold them!"

She asked several of the others if they would join her in bringing order to the chaos around her, but all declined. So she walked alone, some distance, to a small rise on the ground, and sang "with all the strength of her most powerful voice" a spiritual hymn.

As she began to sing, a throng of young men rushed at her, but before they could reach her, another group of men rushed to the scene, forming a circle around her, armed with sticks and clubs. She asked, "Why do you come about me with clubs and sticks? I am not doing harm to any one". Many voices responded, "We aren’t a going to hurt you, old woman; we came to hear you sing!" Others assured her that they were there to protect her, and they would "knock down" anyone who dared to offer her the "least indignity."

She preached, and she sang, and her voice, and her reason, were like oil upon rolling waters, as they left that camp in peace.

Why doesn’t every schoolchild in America know, not just her name, but her story?

Why isn’t her glorious image shining from church window panes across the width and breadth of Black America?

Why are we still so confused about who she was, and get her so mangled with the memory of Harriet Tubman?

Why have we forgotten the glories of one of our mothers, who, in her life and her example, gave birth to a passionate freedom?


Check out Mumia's NEW book:
"Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African-American People" at www.africanworld.com

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Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa

 

 

Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.