Study Guide

Frederick Douglass in Ain't I a Woman?

By Sojourner Truth, a.k.a. Isabella Baumfree

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Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass: born a slave, made his escape, and became a fervid activist for equal rights. Sounds like the male Sojourner Truth, right?

Not really.

Besides individual experiences making each person a special snowflake, there are critical differences in their stories. For one, Douglass managed to become educated, learning the alphabet from the wife of one of his owners, despite it being against the law to educate slaves. He became a journalist for activist papers after his escape, aided by the woman who would become his first wife.

But the differences don't stop there.

(Sometimes) Remember the Ladies

Frederick Douglass was an all-around great guy—he was supportive of the right to vote for women, even to the point of signing the Declaration of Sentiments, but didn't see it as high a priority as abolition and Black suffrage. He was willing to renege on his support if he thought women's suffrage was distracting politicos from his more pressing abolitionist agenda.

And as we know, Sojourner Truth didn't feel the need to order basic human rights into a neat to-do list. She wanted it all changed.

If You Can't Say Anything Nice...

No one can claim Douglass didn't work his hardest for abolition and equal rights, but he apparently had a bit of a problem with being snooty. He was bound and determined to eradicate slavery, even voting against his acquaintance Abraham Lincoln in the 1864 election because he hadn't publicly endorsed Black suffrage. (Never mind the Emancipation Proclamation the year before. That apparently wasn't enough for Douglass.)

However, Douglass seemed to have a bias against people less educated, which basically included all those slaves he was working to free. This came out in full force against Sojourner Truth, when they met at the Northampton Association, where their interactions were recorded as full-on patronizing: Douglass described Truth as "a genuine specimen of the uncultured [N]egro," although he did acknowledge that, "Her quaint speeches easily gave her an audience." (Source)

Wow, Douglass. You're a snob.

Truth got her own back years later when Douglass, frustrated by the lack of progress in abolition, began to urge Black people to take freedom via violence because they couldn't rely on faith and goodwill to change things. Truth simply stood up and asked, "Frederick, is God dead?" (Source)

For more details on Douglass, check this out.

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