Sojourner Truth comes to life at Black History Month event

Charmaine Crowell-White opened the 25th anniversary celebration of Black History Month in Chesterfield County with a one-woman show portraying American hero, abolitionist, woman’s rights advocate, and preacher Sojourner Truth – famous for her speech “Ain’t I a Woman.”

Crowell-White gave a commanding performance bringing to life a woman who faced incredible obstacles throughout her life and of those living in slavery. The audience was captivated by the character of Sojourner Truth and her speech during the 45-minute performance in the Kelly E. Miller meeting room at the Meadowbrook Library last Saturday and were amazed at the feelings they were left with.  

Whether it was recalling the fight for freedom rights for blacks or women, Sojourner Truth’s message was heard.

“I am amazed,” said audience member Lloyd Fleury. “I plan to drive wherever she is [performing] and have a carload with me. There should not be an empty seat in the room. She is awesome.”

Crowell-White channeled Sojourner Truth opening with an explanation for the stars she wore on her cape and cap, “The abolition thought I should come to this meeting, dressed as the captain of the Home Guard, who was to come with me, so they bought for me to wear this red shawl, sash and apron to match a cap on my head with a star on the front and a star on each shoulder.”

Sojouner Truth, (Isabella Baumfree -1797-1883) was born into slavery in New York State. She was sold several times, and over and over she was beaten and raped by her owners and was forced into a marriage. Eventually her husband and children were sold to plantations in the South.  She was promised freedom in 1826 but then denied.

When she finally left with her youngest child, she was taken in by a family who gave her the comforts of free people.  There she had a spiritual awakening, became a devout Christian and gave herself a new name, Sojourner Truth.  

She began her new life as a preacher, speaking about abolition and women’s rights and believed they were intertwined and equally as important.  Sojourner said truth is power.

During her preaching she said “I come forth to see what kind of spirits people are made of.  I am free. I didn’t get beat no more, but I wasn’t happy. I was worried about my other children. What is this thing called slavery - to separate their mother from their children?”  

She said her hands were the same, but her spirit was different and went forward leaving the bondage of slavery and started talking with people so they would know the truth and do something about it.  Sojourner Truth’s famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” was delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851.

Crowell-White has performed Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman” hundreds of times and said she is just as passionate today about Sojourner Truth as she was with her first performance 20 years ago.

Then a two-hour performance, Crowell-White said she has adapted the play according to the audience, whether young or old.  An educator first, she said, Crowell-White taught in Chesterfield County schools for 25 years; seven years at Falling Creek Middle, seven years at Thomas Dale, seven years at Meadowbrook and four years at Tomahawk Creek Middle. 

She was honored as the Chesterfield County Middle School “Teacher of the Year 2010-2011.”

Now retired from the school system, Crowell-White is continuing her career as an actor, storyteller and living history interpreter with her company Act II Scene I.

“Teaching is first,” she said. “And I feel so blessed today.”

Her living history presentations  also include Harriett Tubman, Suky (Dolly Madison’s personal servant) and modern day Griot (Storytelling Exhibitions). Crowell-White also participates in the Artist in Residency programs, to teach different aspects of folklore and help teach to develop interdisciplinary plans. “Using the arts as a learning tool in different disciplines,” she said.

Charmaine Crowell-White, a graduate of San Jose State University in San Jose California, formerly of the African American Drama Company of San Francisco, has performed and directed for many theater companies across the United States.  She has several credits in theater and film working in projects that filmed in Virginia including; Spielberg “Lincoln,” “Killing Lincoln,” PBS “The Abolitionists,” and recently “Turn,” AMC series about George Washington and the Revolutionary War. She also has a small costume rental business.

Crowell-White will bring Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman” back to life again this Thursday, Feb. 6 at the Central Library from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Midlothian Library.

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