By Nancy Koester
Editor’s note: Nancy Koester was a pastor at St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, and taught at Luther Seminary on an adjunct basis. She is the author of “We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth” (Eerdmans 2023). Her book, “Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life,” won a Minnesota Book Award in 2015.
Nancy writes: “I wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis, asking him to ban my book on Sojourner Truth, in protest against his censorship of Black history. My research into Sojourner Truth—and before that into slavery in America and its consequences—have shown me that Black history is American history.
“I didn’t get a response from DeSantis, and didn’t expect to. But it was cathartic to write the letter, and I’m glad to share it with you.”
Koester’s letter to DeSantis was dated Juneteenth 2023, the national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States in 1865. Here is the text of her letter:
Dear Gov. DeSantis,
Please ban my book “We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth” (Eerdmans, 2023).
This book tells the life story of Sojourner Truth. Enslaved in New York for 30 years, in her freedom she became a Christian preacher who spoke against slavery and for women’s rights. It is quite possible that someone who reads my book might feel bad…because Sojourner was sold away from her family and severely beaten.
When New York banned slavery, her son was illegally sold to Alabama. Sojourner fought a long court battle to get him back and became the first black woman to successfully sue a white man for the return of a family member.
Which is worse, people feeling bad about slavery, or getting inspired by Truth’s courage?
There’s more. This book will also mess with your ideas of religion and patriotism. According to the “Narrative of Sojourner Truth,” it was a vision of Jesus that inspired her. You don’t want this secret to get out, that religious faith—though it can be misused to justify oppression—can also give people a sense of their dignity as children of God.
Truth was patriotic, calling the nation to live up to its most noble ideals of freedom and justice for all.
Sojourner Truth fought to desegregate the horse-drawn streetcars in Washington, D.C., in 1865. Uh oh.
Do you want people to find out just how long the work for civil rights has been going on? They might feel bad. Or they might follow Truth’s example. Because black history is American history. So is women’s history. It is humanity.
Long before the 1619 project, some Americans decried what today is called systemic racism. Check out “American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses,” Weld and Grimke, published in 1839; and “A Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1853; or Frederick Douglass’s 1852 speech, “What To The Slave is the Fourth of July?” That is, check them out if they have not already been banned.
I hope you find my book to be contrary to your ideas of patriotism, history and religion. And if you ban it, more people will read it. I could even have stickers made to put on the cover: banned in Florida.
Rev. Dr. Nancy Koester
Nancy Koester lived for many years in St. Anthony Park, and now lives with her husband Craig near Como Lake.