Photos and story by Marianne Salza
In a deep and profound tone, Kathryn Woods, as Sojourner Truth, sang “Amazing Grace” as she ambled through rows of listeners, shaking hands. Woods performed an historical re-enactment of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, originally delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Organized by the Chelsea Black Community (CBC) in celebration of Black History Month, the Feb. 23 monologue at the Chelsea Public Library was a glimpse into the life of the African American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
“When these troubles come, you go to God. He lives in the sky and He’ll give you an answer to every prayer that you make,” said Woods, a Freedom Trail Foundation tour guide.
Woods told the story of Truth’s grueling life of slavery, describing how she was brought to America from Africa with her family when she was a little girl. Truth recalled her cruel masters shackling her in the barn and beating her with rods that had been heated in a fire. Her “mister and missus were never pleased.” Truth pleaded with God to let her get away and guide her.
“The Lord spoke to me,” said Woods, as Truth. “I got up at three in the morning and traveled so fast; and by the time the sun rose, I was clear away.”
Eventually, she escaped and was taken in by Quakers, who treated her kindly and provided her with a bed, something she had never had before. As a slave, Truth slept on the damp boards of a dirt cellar.
Woods explained the ventures of the six-feet-tall tenacious woman, who traveled north and south, speaking of racial inequality, asserting that slavery must end. She was the first African American woman to take a case to a grand jury and win, and was appointed on the council of the National Freedman’s Relief Association. Along her march, she met abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass, as well as President Abraham Lincoln, who greeted her with respect and cordiality.
“I saw God. It was like the sun shined in a pale of water. I asked the Lord for a new name, and he gave me Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land, being a sign for the people to show them their sins. He gave me Truth because I was to declare truth,” said Woods, as Truth, whose birth name was Isabella Baumfree. “I felt as though I had the power of a nation with me.”
Kathryn Woods performing Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech.
Kathryn Woods, as Sojourner Truth, showing Mandela Moses Zabot-Hall a photograph of the real Sojourner Truth.
Calvin Brown of the CBC holding a photograph of Sojourner Truth.
Leo Robinson, Chelsea City Council President, viewing an image of Sojourner Truth. Also pictured are City Council Clerk Ledia Koco and City Councillor Damali Vidot.
Kenny Umemba and Henry Wilson.
Joan Cromwell, CBC president, Mayra Reyes, and Maureen Lee, CBC treasurer.
The Chelsea Black Community (CBC) hosted a re-enactment of Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” at the Chelsea Public Library on Feb. 23.