Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery in Ulster County, New York around 1797. She was a striking woman standing almost six-feet tall becoming an advocate against slavery, fighting for prison reform, the abolishment of capital punishment, the rights of freedmen, women’s rights and a supporter of the Union Army during the Civil War by helping recruit black troops.
In 1826 she escaped with her infant daughter to freedom and became the first black woman to prevail in court over a white man recovering one of her five children, a son.
Her birth name was Isabella Baumfree; however, she gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 announcing she would travel the land as a preacher, telling the truth and fighting for justice.
Over the next several years, she divided her time between Massachusetts, where she purchased a home and in Ohio. The fact that she was able to purchase a home is quite remarkable considering her meager earnings.
Though she never learned to read or write, she spent a lot of time trying to secure land grants for slaves after the war, but she was unsuccessful compelling the federal government.
Her notoriety offered the opportunity to support herself by selling portraits, captioned “I sell the Shadow to support the Substance.” In 1850, she enlisted her friend, Olive Gilbert to write her biography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave which provided additional income.
She often testified to the demeaning nature of slavery and the redeeming power of faith declaring her soul was beclouded and crushed while in slavery.
Famous for asking, “But how good and wise is God for if slaves knowed what their true condition was, it would be more than the mind could bear. While the face is sold of all their rights—what is there on God’s footstool to bring them up?
Truth was unwilling to wait to get to Heaven to have her rights—or those of any persecuted person restored.
In 1863 while preaching for racial equality at Sabbath School Convention, Battle Creek, she asked, “Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save the one as well as the other?”
While working at Freedman’s Village in Maryland to help improve the living conditions; she was apprised of child kidnappings in the area and encouraged parents to protest.
When the camp commanders threatened to imprison her with others, Sojourner replied saying if you try, “I will make this nation rock like a cradle.”
This extraordinary woman had many notable encounters but one with another well-known, well-educated ex-slave abolitionist by the name of Frederick Douglas had her to admonish him by asking, “Is God gone?” after his speech in Salem, Ohio in 1852 left attendees with very-little hope.
Her way with words and legendary sense of humor resonated with most making her a force to be reckoned with.
She died at her home on November 26, 1883 at the age of 86 though she encouraged others to speculate about her age.
Her funeral services were attended by many, reportedly more than 1,000 people packed the Congregational-Presbyterian Church. She is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek where her tombstone is inscribed with the words, “Is God Dead?”
Her best-known extemporaneous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
Sojourner Truth, this Black History Month we salute you!
Tags: Sojourner Truth, Isabella Baumfree, Black History Month