SOJOURNER TRUTH, “ADDRESS AT THE WOMAN’S RIGHTS CONVENTION IN AKRON, OHIO” (29 MAY 1851)
1. Read the Robinson and Gage versions of Sojourner Truth’s speech out loud. How do they sound to you? What are the challenges in reading the texts? Try to imagine yourself in the audience in 1851. Which speech would you have found more persuasive?
2. How does the arrangement of Sojourner Truth’s speech contribute to its persuasiveness? Could she have put the speech together in another order and kept her same ideas?
3. Consider how Sojourner Truth uses humor as a rhetorical strategy. Does it seem effective? Does humor belong in a speech with a serious purpose? Are there other examples you can think of where speakers use humor to address serious topics?
4. Does it change the way you think about Sojourner Truth to know that she might not have said “Ain’t I a Woman?” Explore the rhetorical use of that question by feminists after Truth’s time to see the power of the question in the work of scholars such as bell hooks.
5. Do you think that authenticating texts is an important dimension of rhetorical criticism? What are the complications of capturing the content of speeches that were delivered in the early decades of the United States?
6. Which is more important: 1) that we attempt to ascertain the actual words of a delivered speech; and/or 2) that we examine the version of the speech that has been most popular throughout U.S. history?
1. This program features artistic tributes to Sojourner Truth. http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/AnArt Examine the visual representations and analyze the symbolism of such representations. In the process, consider what Truth might have thought about such tributes and the visual representations?
2. Write a paper that examines how Sojourner Truth’s words and images have been used over time. Look for leaders and activists who quote her. What connection do you see between Truth’s goals and theirs?
3. Read other speeches by Sojourner Truth (there is an excellent collection in Sojourner Truth as Orator: Wit, Story, and Song by Suzanne Pullon Fitch and Roseann M. Mandziuk). Write a paper that explores how her rhetoric changes over time. Does she argue for different causes? Does she use different arguments and employ different evidence?
4. How does Sojourner Truth’s rhetoric differ from that of other activists of her time? Two speeches to consider for comparison are Frederick Douglass’s 1852 “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (http://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?page=2945) and Frances E. W. Harper’s 1866 “We are All Bound Up Together” (http://www.blackpast.org/?q=1866-frances-ellen-watkins-harper-we-are-all-bound-together-0). What differed in the rhetorical situations the speakers were in? How did they address their audiences? Did they acknowledge their differences or try to find places of connection? Did they use different types of arguments? What role did the speaker’s gender play in the speeches they created, arguments they made, or receptions that they found?
5. Compare Sojourner Truth’s rhetorical strategies in relation to women’s equality. Compare Truth’s strategies to other woman’s suffragists of the same period. How were they similar? How were they different?
6. Read Robert Gaines’ article entitled: “The Processes and Challenges of Textual Authentication.” In The Handbook of Rhetoric and Public Address. Ed. Shawn J. Parry-Giles and J. Michael Hogan, 133-156. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2010. Next, select a rhetorical text and authenticate it. In an accompanying essay, identify the authentication processes you used and discuss some of the problems you encountered in the process.
1. What groups are marginalized in today’s society? What are the rhetorical tools that activists today have at their disposal?
2. Make the case for rights that you believe you should have. Try to make your case in the way that Sojourner Truth did, using arguments based in body, mind, and spirit. For example, should people younger than age 18 be allowed to vote?
3. The bust of Sojourner Truth in the US Capitol is the first of an African-American woman. It took many years of lobbying before the bust was unveiled in 2009. Why was it so difficult? Take a look at some of the other people honored with busts and statues in the Capitol (http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/index.cfm). Who else should have a statue there?
4. Do a search on the Internet to indicate the various ways in which Sojourner Truth is memorialized? What are the primary traits associated with Truth’s political career?
5. Do a search on the Internet to indicate how many schools are named after Sojourner Truth? What do such schools say about the legacy of Truth to their educational mission?
6. Do a search on the Internet to identify the numerous postage stamps that have been issued to commemorate the memory of Sojourner Truth? What do the images on the stamps communicate about Truth? What justifications are offered for memorializing Truth in such a way?
Last updated June 15, 2016.