STLT#201, Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

I have stared at the screen for probably twenty minute ago, unsure how to start today’s post.

Do I talk about how joyful this song is, in the midst of crisis? And how joy comes out of pains, sorrows, and troubles?

Do I talk about how the notes on this are so sketchy we really can only call it “traditional” in the hymnal and Between the Lines and it’s only in the internet age that we learn it is indeed a spiritual from slave times? And how seeing “Traditional” today feels like whitewashing?

Do I talk about how our General Assembly theme is “Resist and Rejoice” and this song seems to fit right in with that theme? (And do I talk about how hard General Assembly and Ministry Days might be?)

Or, do I take a moment and share some things I just learned about Sojourner Truth, for whom this tune was named?

Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since I laid my burden down.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since I laid my burden down.

Feel like shouting, “Hallelujah!” …

Life is sweeter, so much sweeter. …

Feel like dancing, hallelujah! …

Love is shining all around me, …

Yeah, let’s do that.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797; her father had been captured in his native Ghana and sold into slavery while her mother was the daughter of people captured in Guinea.

She spoke only Dutch until she was 9 years old. Why? Because she was a slave just south of Kingston, NY, which at the time was almost entirely inhabited by the Dutch.

While New York went through an abolition process starting in 1799 and ending in 1827, Isabella’s owner reneged on a promise to release her early, and so she left early anyway, with her baby daughter Sophia. “I did not run off,” she said, “for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

After conversion to Methodism, she heard a message from God that told her to go forth and speak the truth about slavery, and she adopted the name Sojourner Truth in response.

She spoke widely about slavery and suffrage throughout the Northeast. In 1850 her memoirs were published under the title The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. Truth dictated her recollections to a friend, Olive Gilbert, since she could not read or write, and William Lloyd Garrison wrote the book’s preface.

And now, here’s the real shame, as explained in a piece about her at biography.com,

In May of 1851, Truth delivered a speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. The extemporaneous speech, recorded by several observers, would come to be known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” The first version of the speech, published a month later by Marius Robinson, editor of Ohio newspaper The Anti-Slavery Bugle, did not include the question “Ain’t I a woman?” even once. Robinson had attended the convention and recorded Truth’s words himself. The famous phrase would appear in print 12 years later, as the refrain of a Southern-tinged version of the speech. It is unlikely that Sojourner Truth, a native of New York whose first language was Dutch, would have spoken in this Southern idiom.

Lord have mercy. Not only did this woman have to stand up to white women and argue that they were ignoring women of color (something that still happens, much to our shame), but she also had been turned into a caricature. So much so that in 1861, when Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote for The Atlantic what editors of that magazine now call a “hyperbolic portrait of Truth [that] romanticized her in contemporary racial tropes and popularized an enduring nickname, the “Libyan Sibyl,” Stowe even cast her as having been a Southern slave.

Lord have mercy, what we did to this woman’s history and legacy. Because she was amazing, without all of the BS that was layered on her both during and after her life.

I am so sorry this happened.

And dammit, this kind of BS keeps happening.

In 2017.

Lord have mercy.

 

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