National Freedman. Vol I. No. 11

Sojourner TRUTH   |   W. G. HAWKINS

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National Freedman. Vol I. No. 11
National Freedman. Vol I. No. 11

"NEITHER SLAVERY NOR INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE… SHALL EXIST WITHIN THE UNITED STATES": ONE OF THE FIRST PRINTINGS OF THE 13TH AMENDMENT, PUBLISHED THE SAME MONTH AS RATIFICATION ON THE FRONT WRAPPER OF THIS RARE DECEMBER ISSUE OF NATIONAL FREEDMAN, ALSO FEATURING THE EYEWITNESS REPORT OF A WASHINGTON, D.C. STREETCAR CONDUCTOR'S ATTACK ON SOJOURNER TRUTH

(TRUTH, Sojourner) (THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT) (HAWKINS, W.G.). The National Freedman, A Monthly Journal of the New York National Freeman's Relief Association. Vol. I. New York, December 15, 1865. No. 11. New York: National Freedman's Relief Association, December 15, 1865 (i.e. December 18, 1865). Slim octavo, original cream self-wrappers, original stitching as issued; pp. (345) 346-384. $4800.

First issue of the December 1865 issue of the National Freedman, prominently displaying the 13th Amendment on the front wrapper, this landmark publication also containing the dramatic eyewitness account of a streetcar conductor's attack on Sojourner Truth that led her to defiantly press charges for assault and battery, an exceptionally rare publication in fragile original wrappers.

This pivotal issue of the monthly National Freedman leads with one of the earliest printings of the newly ratified 13th Amendment, which was passed by Congress January 31, 1865, but not ratified until December 6, 1865, mere days before its appearance on the cover of this issue as: "Article XIII.—Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction" (original emphasis). The 13th Amendment not only freed the slaves, it also represented a revolutionary "expansion of liberty" as the first of three Reconstruction amendments to grant fundamental new rights and liberties to Black men and women (MacPherson, Abraham Lincoln, 63). This landmark issue also features an eyewitness report documenting an attack on Sojourner Truth on a Washington, D.C. streetcar. While these were legally desegregated in March 1865, conductors often refused to allow Black men and women board or violently ejected them. Truth, born enslaved, is famed for her 1851 Ain't I a Woman? speech, as well as her eloquent defiance of slavery and racism, and her powerful support for women's rights. Prior to the streetcar conductor's assault, she had moved to Washington, D.C. to join the newly established Freedman's Bureau, and faced racist attacks on streetcars at least twice before. This early account of a September 18 assault was authored by white abolitionist Laura Haviland, who was with Truth that day. The article vividly describes the conductor's aggression as he tried eject Truth. "'I shan't go off,' said she. 'Then I'll put you off,' and [he] strengthened his grasp upon her arms.'" When she held fast to a railing, saying "I'm not going off," the conductor shoved Truth harder. Haviland reports, "I told him he must not put the women off that car. Said he excitedly: 'Does she belong to you? If she does, take her in out of the way,' and giving her a push… 'Don't push me over people,' said Sojourner… Sojourner's shoulder was swollen and very lame from the sprain caused by the wrench."

Sojourner Truth also made history in becoming "the first African American to sue successfully in court over the issue of slavery when she retrieved her son Peter" (Encyclopedia of African American History, 552-54). "American legal narratives of the 19th century tell us that slaves, free Blacks and women had no legal voice. Nevertheless Sojourner Truth initiated successful lawsuits, attempted to vote, petitioned Congress, and in many other ways insisted upon a legal and political voice" (Accomando in MELUS V.28, No.1, 61; emphasis added). Her persistence in the legal sphere, against all odds, is especially evident here. For, with the backing of the Freedman's Bureau, the conductor Weeden was arrested and Truth pressed charges for assault and battery. Haviland notes the case was due to open on "the first Wednesday in October next." Given Truth's own account of this incident in a separately known October 1 letter, dictated to her friend Amy Post, the date of Weeden's court appearance would have been October 5. In another 1865 letter by Truth, written from Washington, D.C., she noted: "Miss Haviland is here on business… she does the reading and writing for me while here… Truth was a sophisticated consumer of the news. She had newspapers read to her, not solely for information… but also to compare their different accounts" (Grigsby, Enduring Truths, 109). "Although the charges against Weeden were eventually dropped, the court proceedings were covered by the local newspapers, and the publicity pressured the streetcar companies to do a better job of enforcing the law" (DeFerrari, Capitol Streetcars, 58). Edited by William G. Hawkins. This is the 11th issue of the monthly National Freedman, which began publication the same year by the New York National Freedman's Relief Association. The Amendment appears above the printed date at the front wrapper's lower edge stating: "this 18th day of December": certified and signed in print by "William H Seward, Secretary of State." A March 1865 bill created the Bureau of Refugees, Freemen and Abandoned Lands (the Freedmen's Bureau) in the War Department. An earlier printing of Assault on Sojourner Truth, as noted here, came in the form of a September 25 letter from Haviland, "To the Editor of the Standard"—likely the National Anti-Slavery Standard, founded in 1840 by Lydia Maria Child and David Child. This issue of National Freedman also containing numerous reports on the monumental hurdles faced by Black men and women across the South, including thousands made homeless as land was "repossessed by late rebel owners."

Text fresh with light corner edge-wear to fragile wrappers and several tangential leaves, minimally affecting text to rear wrapper. An exceptional near-fine copy.

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