Sojourner Truth, a woman who rose out of slavery in the 19th century to become a leading advocate for social justice, made an appearance through an actress who spoke to about 400 local elementary school children today.
"Ya see, I've been walkin' up and down the land tellin' folks about the evils of slavery," said Daisy Bell Thomas-Quinney, an actress who portrayed Sojourner Truth this morning at Kennedy School.
"It's not whether you're white or black, but that you treat other people the way you want to be treated," she said.
Dressed in a black, 19th-century-style dress, Thomas-Quinney portrayed Sojourner Truth as a woman who had been through a life of pain and hardship, but held no hatred toward white or black people.
"Remember, if you stoop low enough to hate somebody, you can never rise to pull your ownself up," she said. "Use love to rise yourself up."
The performance, sponsored by several local businesses and government agencies, was held in conjuction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day today.
A FREE public performance is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Liberty Hall.
As Sojourner Truth, Thomas-Quinney outlined her life story from her birth as a slave in New York state to her last years as a free woman and speaker for racial and gender justice.
She spoke as Sojourner Truth spoke, using broken English and African-American slang. She also sang and interacted with the crowd as part of the performance.
"When you're a slave, nobody cares what ya' think," she said of her early days and being beaten as a slave.
Other hardships she had to endure included her brother being sold and taken from the family when she was young. She never saw him again. Later, a slave who took a romantic interest in her was killed because he had visited her.
"But my momma always told me, `When you've got no questions, then you need no answers . . . and you can talk to Jesus.'
"I said, `I don't care how much people would beat me . . . there's one thing they can never take away my dignity and my spirit.'"
Later, Sojourner Truth explained that after gaining her freedom when New York abolished slavery in 1827, she vowed never to return to her former master.
"GOD TOLD me, `Once you come out of Egypt, you don't go back for nothin,'" she said.
Sojourner Truth also worked during the Civil War as a nurse and had been speaking out against racial and gender inequality.
In 1852, at an Ohio convention being held to advocate women's voting rights, Sojourner Truth said she had a discussion with a white man who said women needed to be "helped."
"Because I was just a colored woman . . . he said, `I couldn't give a flea's bite about you,'" she said. "I said, `Well, maybe you don't give a flea's bite about me, but God willin' I'm goin' to keep you scratchin'."
Third- through sixth-graders at Kennedy, and fifth- and sixth-graders from Pinckney, East Heights and India schools watched the performance.
Kennedy principal Willie Amison said the presentation was the first such performance many of the children had seen. Amison said some of the children had seen videos about Sojourner Truth before the performance.
"It was good," said Severeno Woods, 12, a sixth-grader from Kennedy. "I liked the way she sang the songs and the way she helped deal with the pain," he said.
Terri Arthur, another Kennedy sixth-grader, said she felt sorry for Sojourner Truth.
"'Cause she went through all that pain and beating," she said.