Abolitionism, Stereotypes, and Message-Making

This coin came up as I was looking for specimens for my Warwick Keynote in July.  It won’t appear there but some coins of Liberia may.

This type of hard times token was designed to circulate in the regular monetary system as a large copper cent.  The reverse in particular is designed to imitate official coinage of the time.

The token is designed not only to circulate as money but also to carry with it a popular abolitionist message.  The appeal is to humanity of the enslaved.  The specific token type above has its design origins in British abolitionist tokens of the previous century:

More examples here and this medallion.  Notably the American version has a woman and the ‘Am I not a Woman and a Sister’ legend. Notice that the date is many years earlier than Sojourner Truth’s famous speech on May 29, 1851 in Akron, Ohio, the speech we now know as the ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ Speech. The earliest printed version of this speech has no such line in it.  The first version was published on June 21, 1851 by Marcus Robinson, a close associate of Truth and the secretary of the Convention.

We call it the ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ speech because of Gage’s version published in May 1863 in which the speech is re-crafted in a parody of Southern Dialect: Truth was born and raised in NY in a Dutch speaking household.  The refrain of  ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ was inserted in four times.  The new refrain was as demonstrated by the tokens such as that illustrated above an accepted and common abolitionist plea one that is combined with the image of the slave as down trodden, in need of external salvation, begging for mercy.  Gage brought all these prejudices and more to her rewriting of the speech to sound as she and her audience thought a former slave woman should speak.  Stealing the Truth.

Here is Robinson’s version, the closest we are likely to come to the power of Truth’s words as she spoke them.

I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights. I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man. I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? I have heard much about the sexes being equal. I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it. I am as strong as any man that is now. As for intellect, all I can say is, if a woman have a pint, and a man a quart – why can’t she have her little pint full? You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear we will take too much, – for we can’t take more than our pint’ll hold. The poor men seems to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have woman’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble. I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again. The Lady has spoken about Jesus, how he never spurned woman from him, and she was right. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha came to him with faith and love and besought him to raise their brother. And Jesus wept and Lazarus came forth. And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and the woman who bore him. Man, where was your part? But the women are coming up blessed be God and a few of the men are coming up with them. But man is in a tight place, the poor slave is on him, woman is coming on him, he is surely between a hawk and a buzzard.

Wikipedia entry on the speech.

 Speech versions from the US Oratory Project.

Sojourner Truth Institute.**

Sam Sharpe

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