Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree, and was born into slavery in New York in 1797. Her original name was after her father’s owner, Mr. Baumfree. During her early life Truth was sold several times. She eventually married a fellow slave named Thomas, who worked for the Dumont family. Together Truth and Thomas had five children.
Truth ran away from her owners with her youngest child, and while she was wandering around, New York law emancipated all slaves. This occurred in 1827. Because she was now free, she got to choose who she would work for, so she went to work for the Van Wagenen family.
While employed by the Van Wagenens, Truth discovered that one of her children, who had been left with the Dumont family, had been sold into slavery in Alabama. This son should have been free as he had been emancipated under New York law. Because he should have been free Truth took her case to court, and won her son’s return. This was Truth’s first experience at taking an issue to the courts, but it would not be her last.
Her next experience with the courts occurred after Truth was converted and joined the Methodist perfectionist commune. This commune had a lot of allegations against it, and fell apart, and many of the members had allegations against them. Truth/Isabella was accused of poisoning another person, and she took her defense to the courts. She again won her case, this time suing for libel.
It was in 1843 that she decided to change her name. It was for religious reasons and her personal convictions that she took the name Sojourner Truth. Truth believed that she was being guided by the Holy Spirit, and that she needed to go out and be a traveling preacher to help others find the truth and the gospel.
Sojourner Truth began preaching and public speaking. Her fame spread quickly, and lead to her being connected with many movements during the time. In the late 1840s she connected with the abolitionist movement. In the 1850s she began speaking on woman suffrage. She became a spokesperson for many of these movements. In 1851 she gave her most famous speech – “Ain’t I a Woman?” This speech was delivered at a women’s rights convention in Ohio.
In 1864 Truth met President Abraham Lincoln at the White House, and there spoke out against segregation and discrimination. She brought to light specific instances where blacks and women were being discriminated against, and fought to correct this.
Truth did more than just speak out against segregation and discrimination, she also worked to help those who were being discriminated against. For example, during the Civil War Sojourner Truth helped to get contributions of food and clothing for black regiments who were in need. Once the war was over she aided several black refugees and helped them to find jobs so that they could take care of themselves.
One of the notable things about Sojourner Truth was that she was devoted to helping others. She continued traveling and speaking into her eighties, and only stopped when her health deteriorated to a point that she could no longer do so. She passed away in 1883 due to infected ulcers on her legs.
Sojourner Truth was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan. She is remembered today as being an activist for rights for blacks and women, for her religious devotions and preaching, for being the first black woman to take a lawsuit to court, and for her contributions during and after the Civil War. She was truly a remarkable woman.
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