Newsroom

Newsroom image of kids

Child Watch® Column: “Return of the Weasels”

Release Date: June 13, 2014

Marian Wright Edelman

This column is not about the recent story making headlines in New York City on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to lift a ban on pet ferrets. But it is about weasels. Age-old weasels still causing Americans pain and suffering and blocking progress towards a better, safer America for all. Sojourner Truth was a brilliant but illiterate slave woman, a great orator, and a powerful presence who possessed great courage. She challenged the racial and gender caste system of slavery by suing for the return of a son sold away from her. She got thrown off Washington, D.C. streetcars but kept getting back on until they changed the rules and let her ride. She stood up with fiery eloquence to opponents and threatening crowds who tried to stop her from speaking. When a hostile White man told her that the hall where she was scheduled to appear would be burnt down if she spoke, she replied, “Then I will speak to the ashes.” When taunted while speaking in favor of women's rights by some White men who asked if she was really a woman, she bared her breasts and allegedly famously retorted, “Ain’t I a woman?,” detailing the back-breaking double burden of slavery’s work and childbearing she had endured. When heckled by a White man in her audience who said he didn’t care any more about her antislavery talk than for an old flea bite, she snapped back, “Then the Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching.” And when decrying her exclusion from America’s life and professed freedoms during a religious meeting where another speaker had just praised the Constitution, she told this story:

“Children, I talks to God and God talks to me. I goes out and talks to God in de fields and de woods. Dis morning I was walking out, and I got over de fence. I saw de wheat a holding up its head, looking very big. I goes up and takes holt ob it. You b’lieve it, dere was no wheat dare? I says, God, what is de matter wid dis wheat? and he says to me, ‘Sojourner, dere is a little weasel in it.’ Now I hears talkin’ about de Constitution and de rights of man. I comes up and I takes hold of dis Constitution. It looks mighty big, and I feels for my rights, but der aint any dare. Den I says, God, what ails dis Constitution? He says to me, ‘Sojourner, dere is a little weasel in it.’”

The version captured here in an 1863 edition of the National Anti-Slavery Standard shares a flaw with many existing accounts of her speeches—they were often written down in the mock Southern dialect that 19th-century readers identified with all slaves, despite the fact that Sojourner Truth was born and raised in rural New York as the slave of a Dutch-speaking family, spoke Dutch as a child, took pride in speaking correct English as an adult, and reportedly sounded like White New York peers. But the point still comes across very clearly. Since Sojourner Truth’s day, Black and White and Brown and other excluded and marginalized women—and men—have been trying to ferret out the unjust and greedy weasels still eating away at the core of the Constitution and the promise of equal opportunity in our national life, gain the rights and freedoms they know they have been promised, and build a just America for themselves and their children. The struggle for a fair playing field for all Americans and their children must accelerate and reach a mighty roar today when these core values are so much under attack.

America is still struggling to live up to its creed enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and overcome its huge birth defects built into the implementation of our political and economic system: Native American genocide, slavery, exclusion of all women and non-propertied men, including White men, from America’s political process. We have come a long way but these deep-seated cultural, racial, economic, and gender impediments to a just union challenge us still. We must remain vigilant in rooting them out and moving ahead as many attempt to move us backwards.

As another July 4th approaches, can we finally tell every child born in 2014 that he or she was created with an equal chance to realize America’s dream—or for tens of millions of children who are poor, illiterate, violence-ridden, hungry, and homeless will America’s promise still feel hollow at the core? Children have only one childhood, and that childhood determines much of what they grow up to accomplish. This means we adults have only a very short window in which to make sure that all children, regardless of the lottery of birth, are nurtured and fed, physically and spiritually, and are educated and supported to grow up to be the best they can be. If America is to lead in the 21st century world, we must reset our economic and moral compass and do right by our children—all of them. God did not create two classes of children, the American Dream did not envisage two classes of children, and neither should we.


Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

Sign-up to receive CDF President Marian Wright Edelman's weekly Child Watch Column.

Let us know what you think about this column:

Nickname
Comment
Enter this word: Change

Here's what others have said:

Submitted by KBrittingham-Edmond at: June 18, 2014
This article is true greatness. I will share on my fb page! www.mccfs.info

Submitted by Nana at: June 16, 2014
Thank you for reminding me that we must continue to tell our children who they are and are meant to be.

Submitted by Sharonazar at: June 15, 2014
I love Sojourner Truth...I take exception to her comparing some pretty horrible people with weasels, who are lovely mammals. It's like calling someone a 'rat' or a 'snake'...all these animals have their own reasons for doing what they do and it's all connected to survival. Those who she likens to weasels are really demons because they go out of their way to hurt their fellow humans in a most ugly, cruel manner. Sharon

Submitted by interestesd at: June 14, 2014
Blunt and real

Submitted by bobby at: June 14, 2014
to help our scholars to grow up and be productive citizens in life.

Submitted by noble at: June 14, 2014
Ms. Edelman you are the last of the Civil rights champions who has fought for decades to fix broken stereotypes and/or laws. I pray for blessings to keep you strong.

Submitted by noble at: June 14, 2014
Ms. Edelman you are the last of the Civil rights champions who has fought for decades to fix broken stereotypes and/or laws

Submitted by Sunshine at: June 14, 2014
When a society cares not for their own children, it splits/fragments into Demented pieces that becomes greater than the whole that then can no longer function; falls apart, disintegrates. We MUST SAVE OUR CHILDREN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'

Submitted by mo,key at: June 13, 2014
a much needed message. But I wonder how many people are listening?

Submitted by same old song at: June 13, 2014
Every where you turn some ones crying about being black. Get over it were all tired of it.keep it to yourself

Submitted by Anonymous at: June 13, 2014
THEIR IS ONE ITEM THAT CDF NEEDS TO ADDRESS THE RETURN OF DEBTORS PRISONS; I TODAY READ OF A VERY SAD STORY OF A PENNSYLVANIA WOMAN;A MOTHER OF SEVEN CHILDREN WHO DIED IN JAIL BECAUSE SHE COULD NOT PAY HER TRUANCY FINES THAT ONE OF HER CHILDREN ACCUMULATED;THESE FINES ADDED UP IT BECAME INTEREST UPON INTEREST;THE JUDGE IN HER CASE MADE HER STAY IN JAIL;BECAUSE OF THIS SHE DIED IN JAIL LEAVING ALL HER CHILDREN MOTHERLESS AND HOMELESS.

Submitted by Joyous at: June 13, 2014
I feel that as African Americans we must continue to fight for our children. Let us have the strength and conviction of a Sojjourner Truth.

Submitted by DOTTIE at: June 13, 2014
THANK YOU FOR YOU INSIGHT AND DEDICATION TO OUR CHILDREN.