Women and Adversity:
Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan on November 26, 1883, 137 years ago today, Thanksgiving Day 2020. She is one of the bravest women in United States history.
In 1826 she cuddled her baby daughter Sophia in her arms and walked off the property of John Dumont in West Park, New York to escape slavery. Dumont had promised Truth he’d free her before July 4, 1827, the date mandated in New York State for all slaves to be freed, but he later recanted his promise. Truth became the first African American woman to win a lawsuit against a White man in U.S. courts when she sued him in 1828 for selling her son Peter to a slave owner in Alabama, which was against the law. She won a second lawsuit in 1835 when she accused a couple of slander after they implicated her in the death of a preacher.
Truth, who couldn’t read or write, said she spoke with God and believed she was meant to preach his words. She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843 and explained why. “Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign to them, and Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the people.”
She dictated her life story, and in 1850 the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Northern Slave, Emancipated from Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828, with a Portrait was published.
Truth advocated universal suffrage and preached to include Black women in the women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements. She was not invited to the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, but went anyway and spoke to the group. She told them that women were equal to men and that Black women wanted to participate in women’s rights and suffrage as much as White women did. The speech Truth delivered is not the one popularized over time. The original was changed and rewritten and is now known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Truth recruited Black men to be soldiers in the Union Army during the Civil War and helped provide food and clothing to Black refugees. In 1864 she worked for the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington, D.C., and while in D.C., she rode on Whites-only busses in defiance of discrimination. Her reputation reached President Abraham Lincoln, and he invited her to the White House.
After she moved to Battle Creek, Michigan to live with her daughter, she tried to vote in the 1872 election. When she went to the Board of Registration, she was refused a ballot.
Truth, whose birth name was Isabella Baumfree, was born a slave, possibly in 1797, in a Dutch-speaking community in Ulster County, New York, the daughter of Elizabeth and James Baumfree. She was sold several times and endured severe beatings and rapes. She fell in love with a slave named Robert from a neighboring property, but Robert’s owner forbade the relationship and beat Robert to death. Later Baumfree married another slave named Thomas. The couple had three children: Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia.
Truth was pictured on a 22-cent U.S. stamp in 1986, and a bust of her was unveiled in 2009 and is displayed in Emancipation Hall at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the first African American woman to have a statue at the Capitol.
Truth is one of the women I feature in my ebook, Women and Adversity, Saluting 23 Faithful Suffragists.