Ain't I a Woman
The deeply personal pieces in my “Ain’t I a Woman?” series (The title of the project is from a speech by Sojourner Truth) were created in response to learning that I had slaveowners in my family history. I was born in the North, but moved to the shallow south of Maryland and Virginia some thirty years ago. It was not until I began to research my ancestry that I discovered my “ancient planter” southern roots. Underneath those roots were buried the lives of generations of enslaved people, and into my karmic lineage fell the sudden, swift burden of an outstanding debt, unpaid.
I have spent the past several years trying to come to terms with this dark legacy; using my art practice to work through the anguish of truth. I searched through generations of family records and slave schedules to discover where my ancestors had lived and the numbers, though rarely the names, of the people who were uprooted from their own lands to work the soil of a strange shore. I used period photographs alongside my original photography, layering maps and family documents to create a series of photographic mixed media works to honor and dignify the lives of people robbed by my ancestors of their rightful stories.
The titles in this series are taken from the lyrics of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice'' written by James Weldon Johnson. In this series of images I seek to shine light on a dark chapter in American history while paying forward my own form of soul reparations, however inadequate.
"Ain't I A Woman" speech by Sojourner Truth
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about? That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed 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 the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most 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?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or Negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.