Faces and Spaces of Justice: Sojourner Truth of the Pentimento Tarot


Justice – Tarot

In Joanna Powell Colbert’s Pentimento Tarot, the ancestors – some famous figures, other unknown – look out at us from the layers of history and invite us to enter into their wisdom.

The deck was conceived when Joanna began experimenting with the medium of beeswax collage. She says: “I found myself envisioning antique tarot cards partially obscured by time and wax, with old interpretations of the cards illuminated by newer ones, and new concepts enhanced by older ones.”

The deck’s images retain the connection to the power of the past, but invite the figures represented to speak to us today. Sojourner Truth is Justice and she has much to teach us for today.

Born an enslaved person and given the name Belle in New York state around 1797, Sojourner Truth was sold away from her family as a child and as a young woman separated from the man she loved and pushed into a marriage arranged by her master where she had five children.

When her master failed to honor his promise to free her as part of New York’s abolition of slavery, she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter. She described this act by saying: “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight.” When Truth heard that one of the sons she had had to leave behind was illegally sold to a slave plantation in Alabama, she successfully sued her former master, becoming one of the first African American women to win a case against a white man. Her son was freed and returned to her.

In 1843, Truth became a Methodist, taking the name we know her by today and beginning her life-long involvement with religious seekers, utopian communities, the abolitionist movement, and women’s right’s supporters.

In the 1840s, she also began her career as a powerful public speaker. At an 1844 religious revival meeting in Northampton, Massachusetts, she overcame her own fear of a wild mob by singing to quiet the rabble rousers and give courage to the congregants. In 1851 at the Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Truth delivered not only her most famous speech but also one of the most important of the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. Popularly known as the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, this southern-sounding phrase was unlikely to reflect Truth’s real language and cadence, but the ideas are clearly hers:

Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

Truth never rested from working in support of those who were excluded from and abuse by the imperfect justice of existing institutions. Following the abolition of slavery, she worked to secure land grants for former slaves, and, continuing her recognition of the intersection of issues, some of her final work was around prison reform.

Her deep faith sustained her through her long life and undergirded the endurance she needed to do her work. As death neared, it is reported that she said: “I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.”

Truth shows us the space of Justice as the public square of the convention hall, the church basement, and the streets filled with people speaking and marching and singing.

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