There’re many influential women in US history. One of these women is Sojourner Truth, an African American, evangelist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and author. To better understand how Sojourner Truth began her journey, I feel it is important to first understand where she came from and the harsh realities that she faced during her youth and continued to face throughout her life.
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797.
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At the young age of nine Isabella was sold at a slave auction for $100 and a flock of sheep. Isabella was released into the custody of a man that was to become her master. A man who subjected her to harsh physical labor and violent punishments. By the time she reached her teens she had already been sold two more times.
She ended up in the home of a man named John Dumont. When she was 18 years old Isabella fell in love with a fellow slave. Their love however was not to be. The two slaves had separate owners and were denied the right to marry. Instead a young Isabella was forced into a marriage with another slave owned by Dumont. The couple eventually bore five children together, children that were also sold into slavery. Freedom was promised to her at one point with the stipulation that if she would do well and be faithful Dumont would release her. However, Dumont was not to be trusted, he decided not to hold up on his end of the bargain. It was at this point that Isabella decided to take things into her hand by escaping his clutches as fast as she could walk away with her youngest female child. It is said that Sojourner Truth later said, I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that be alright. Due to the unfortunate circumstances she had to leave behind her other four children due to them being legally bound. Isabella escaped to New York where she was taken in by a couple who bought her for $20 from Dumont when he came looking to get his property back.
In 1827 the New York Anti-Slavery Law was passed. It was after this law was passed that Dumont decided to illegally sell her five-year-old son. With the help of the family she was staying with she sued Dumont for the return of her son. It took months but she won the battle and her son was returned to her. Isabella became the first ever black woman to sue a white man and succeed.
This couple that had so helped her family had a profound impact on the outcome of her life. Living with them had made her more religious woman and she became a devout Christian. In 1829 she moved to New York City where she would work for a preacher as a housekeeper. Living among those that were in the faith helped to build her own faith, she began to love preaching the gospel. It is because of her faith that Isabella came to be Sojourner Truth, as she believed it was her obligation to go forth and speak the truth, the truth about slavery and oppression, to fight for equal rights.
As she built a following, Truth became more and more popular. She had opportunities to meet with other abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Though it is said that Truth and Douglass went their separate ways after he made some comments about men and women that she did not agree with. She also got to know fellow women’s rights advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
In 1851 Truth gave her most famous speech yet, the one that asks the question, Ain’t I A Woman?. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this speech as it has been interpreted many different ways. In some translations the phrase Ain’t I A Woman is never even used.
During the Civil War she helped recruit black soldiers and she worked in D.C. to help rally people to donate food, clothes and other supplies to black refugees. All of Truth’s activism caught the eye of a very important gentleman, President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. He invited her to the White House in October of 1864 and shared with her a gift he was given by African Americans in Baltimore, a Bible. While she was in Washington, she would ride on whites-only streetcars to protest. Once the Civil War ended she worked hard to help find jobs for freed blacks that were weighed down by poverty.
Truth dedicated her life to abdicating for equal rights not only for people of color, but women as well. She fought for everyone to have equal rights. She fought for these rights until the day she died and she passed the fight on to her children who continued it after her death. Truth was a true warrior. In her own words, Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who mad mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black? Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Savior die to save one as well as the other? Many people believe that this is a perfect summary of Truth’s life and fight for equality, myself included.
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