Sojourner Truth and Tahirih
Sister Stars in a Constellation
In this women’s history month we pay tribute, (with a poem titled Sojourner and Tahirih) to two women who by the sheer force of their souls moved humanity forward in its path toward the emancipation of women.
They lived on different sides of the world but were contemporaries in the nineteenth century, two stars in a constellation of brilliant and dedicated women. They are impressive not only by their records of achievement but also by the tremendous sacrifices they made.
The first one is well known to western historians. She is Isabella Baumfree, better known as Sojourner Truth. She was an itinerant speaker for the cause of abolition and women’s suffrage, after having been a slave for most of her life, having borne thirteen children and lost most of them thru their sale to other plantations.
We remember Sojourner Truth in particular for her seminal participation in the Seneca Falls Convention for the rights of women, where she addressed the audience in such stirring words that she was credited with destroying the arguments of the opposition and swaying the audience in favor of women obtaining the right to vote. She said, “Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles, or gibs me any best place!… I could work as much and eat as much as a man …and bear de lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?””Intellect…What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights?If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full?” “Den dat little man in back dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wan’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.”
The second star is less known in the western world but certainly very famous in the eastern world, as she was a poet and scholar of Iranian descent. Her name is Fatimih Baraghani but she is better known as Q’uratu’l Ayn, which means Solace of the Eyes or as Tahirih, the Pure One. This last title she was given by the Bab, the founder of the Babi faith, which she came to believe in and defend. For this she was eventually put to death or martyred.
After espousing the cause of the Bab, a messianic cause which aimed to prepare the people for the coming of One Whom God would manifest, Tahirih became an itinerant speaker, traveling from city to city between Iraq and Iran. Great crowds would come out to meet her caravan and she would address them in stirring words just as Sojourner did. Often she would do this from behind a curtain as it was forbidden to women to show their face to the public in those days.
She was so beloved and respected and yet came to be greatly persecuted. She also had her children taken away.
What most of us don’t know is that both of these sister stars in a constellation of women had their greatest impact during the same summer of 1848.
Tahirih attended a conference in the city of Badasht in June /July of 1848.
Before those assembled at the conference she removed her veil and broke forever with the traditions of the past pledging her allegiance to the new revelation, to the future of humanity and the future of women.
Eventually, she was imprisoned and because she refused to recant her beliefs she was put to death. The last words that she is recorded to have spoken before the executioner strangled her and threw her body into a deep well were: “You can kill me as soon as you like but you cannot stop the emancipation of women. ”
The Seneca Falls Convention and the Conference of Badasht took place within a month of each other in summer of 1848. The following poem (presented in audio) is dedicated to the perfect friendship and understanding that must have existed between those two spirits, as imagined by this author.