Sojourner Truth

(1797-1883)

Abolitionist, Women’s Rights Activist and Preacher

They called her a “Pilgrim of God” because she said the Lord had sent her to travel the countryside and to “declare the truth unto people”. Born in 1797, in Hurly, New York, Sojourner Truth (or Isabella Baumfree, as she was named originally) sought in religion a sanctuary from the terrible cruelties she suffered as a slave. Sold four times, she ran away in 1826, one year before slavery was officially ended in New York. With the help of a Quaker family, she won a lawsuit to have her son returned to her (he had been sold at five to a slave owner in Alabama).

For the next few years, Sojourner Truth worked in New York and attended various churches, hoping to satisfy her religious yearnings’. Then in 1843, she said a voice from God told her to leave the city and take the name “Sojourner.”  The voice told her “to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign unto them.” When Sojourner asked the Lord for a second name, she said he gave the name “Truth” because she was to tell everyone the truth about slavery.  

For nearly twenty years she travelled across the country speaking out on slavery and women’s rights. Though not an eloquent speaker, she was dramatic and very effective. Her statements on slavery won her the respect of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and other well-known abolitionists, and she was invited to meet with Abraham Lincoln at the White House.

When the Civil Was began, Sojourner Truth raised money for black Union Soldiers (those fighting under the flag of the North and supported by the White House) by lecturing and singing. In 1862 she moved to Arlington, Virginia, near Washington, D.C., to help newly freed slaves adjust to freedom. It was there that she became a “Freedom Rider.”

Until 1865, horse cars in Washington were segregated. When Congress outlawed segregation, Sojourner Truth decided to make sure the new law was obeyed. These were the days before the motor cars, and the main mode of transport was horse drawn coaches.  One day, after several coaches refused to stop for her, she stood in the middle of the road, waving her arms and shouting: “I want to ride! I want to ride!”  Before long, a crowd gathered and forced the next horse drawn cab to stop. Sojourner climbed aboard and refused to move when the conductor tried to throw her off. Unable to budge her, the conductor gave in. But Sojourner Truth was not quite through making her point.  To make sure everyone was aware of the new law, she had the conductor arrested and fired from his job.

Sojourner Truth spent the remainder of her life trying to obtaining land out West for newly freed slaves. She died on November 23rd, 1883.

Ain’t I a woman?
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns,
and no man could head me!
And ain’t I a woman?
…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!

Sojourner Truth

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