Freed slaves were quite frank about all the brutality of oppression in the eighteenth-century — those times from the beginning of the Union to the Civil War. However, their ability to act out was determined on whether they resided in the North or the South. Since their lives were restricted in the colonial era by numerous oppressive laws. Liberated Black Americans were actively involved in American society, especially in the north. Throughout the antebellum era until the 1812 war, free Black Americans such as Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass achieved global reputation by reporting about the hypocrisy of slavery.
Sojourner Truth’s sermon in Akron in 1851, popularly called ‘Ain’t I a Woman,’ continues to stand as a milestone in the constant battle for the equality of racial groups and women. Truth spoke before an assembly for woman’s rights, making the case about the social and intellectual capability of women, as well as biblical arguments in favor of equal rights. She tactfully exclaims that no one is doing any kind of decency and respect for her, and she reinforces this point by declaring, “Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me the best place!”. 1 She points out all the strong presence of a fierce hypocrisy by trying to equate this ideal situation of how a man says a woman should be treated. In reality that she has never experienced any of this decency, stimulating an emotional animosity in the audience. Through illustrating the presence of this irony in her own life, she prompts her audience to consider possible atrocities that they would like to change in their very own lives. Furthermore, she concludes her speech with a clever strategy to encourage her listeners to act against this disparity and to overcome the evils they face by referring to Eve’s impact on society. Truth claims, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”. 2 First by referring to the influence of Eve, the world’s first woman’s, Truth draws cleverly in each potential member of her audience so that they can then contribute physically and emotionally to her plan to fight injustice. She suggests that if all of these women work together somehow, there’s no logical reason they shouldn’t aim to achieve what they’re all fighting for: equality for women. Truth effectively gives the clear message on the hypocrisy, unlawful nature, and moral inconsistency of racial and gender discrimination using numerous rhetorical approaches to indulge her audience.
On July 5, 1852, at an Independence Day remembrance, Frederick Douglass gave an opening speech and asked, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ Douglass was a powerful public speaker, often traveling six months a year to give emancipation speeches. His statement was made at a gathering celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It was a powerful speech in which Douglass proclaimed, ‘This Fourth of July is yours, not mine, you may rejoice, I must mourn’.3 The use of the phrases ‘your’ and ‘you’ distinctly highlights the gap between Douglass and his listeners and implies to his listeners that he does not agree with their views or attitudes towards
the Fourth of July. In his speech, Douglass credited the Founding Fathers of America, for their commitment to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, “The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men… The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration”. 4 Douglass declares the founders of the nation are honorable men for their ideals of democracy. In doing so he provides awareness of the hypocrisy of their ideals with the presence of slavery on American soil. Douglass concludes his speech, “I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work the downfall of slavery… the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope”. 5 Douglass tells his audience he feels no “despair” because he does not want his listeners to leave feeling depressed, because of his dark and blistering denunciation of the nation. He looks at the previous years and the values conveyed in the Declaration of Independence. For Douglass, if the country can measure up to other countries where slavery is abolished, it will make United States a place of opportunity and hope for the oppressed, despite its shortcomings. He refers to the future in which he predicts that economic and technological advancements will spread knowledge, prosperity, and substantial progress across the world. Douglass delivers the powerful message on the nation’s corruption, unconstitutional racism, and future, using various powerful themes to engage his audience.
Author Henry Miller, once wrote, “ The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts-an immense difference”. 6 He most likely didn’t have Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas in mind but, their endless courage and determination to abolish slavery and fight for equality for women contributed to a monumental difference on America today. Sojourner Truth was the only voice on behalf of women numerous times, yet it hasn’t discouraged her from speaking. Truth had been a woman of few words but she was impactful when she spoke her truth. Her words may have been simple and her speeches were concise, but she seemed to have an exceptional insight. Frederick Douglass’s influence extends much further than his symbolic role as one of America’s most notorious former slaves, although it proved a remarkable achievement in his lifetime to shift from bondage to freedom. He remains popular to both history and current American culture as he moved further than enjoying freedom to devote his life to the progression of America. His desire to make the nation a truly fair place led him to fight for the abolishment of slavery and advocate for African Americans and women in social justice issues and civil rights issues.
- Douglass, Frederick. “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Owl Eyes. Accessed November 27, 2019. https://www.owleyes.org/text/what-to-the-slave-is-the-fourth-of-july.
- “Henry Miller Quotes.” BrainyQuote. Xplore. Accessed November 26, 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/henry_miller_143530.
- Lab, Digital Scholarship. “The History Engine.” History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes. Accessed November 27, 2019. https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4959.
- Lewis, Jone Johnson. “Women’s History: Ain’t I A Woman, Sojourner Truth.” http://womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_sojourner_truth_woman.htm.
- Truth, Sojourner, and Halsall, Paul. “Modern History Sourcebook: Sojourner Truth: ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, December 1851.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Fordham University, August 1997. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp.
- Zirin, Dave. “’What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass.” The Nation, July 4, 2018. https://www.thenation.com/article/what-slave-fourth-july-frederick-douglass/.
- Truth, Sojourner, and Paul Halsall. “Modern History Sourcebook: Sojourner Truth: ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’, December 1851.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Fordham University, August 1997. https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp.