Sojourner Truth was born a slave. She faced many adversities in her life, as she had severalchildren stolen from her, escaped slavery, and fought back abasing the oppression that shewould soon find she would be facing her whole life. As a result of her many struggles, she turnedto her faith and became very religious. This also led to her getting involved in work for bothAfrican American and women rights. She gave many powerful speeches for her causes and spoketo many important people about what she believed in. Truth worked tirelessly to make a betterAmerica for people like her to live in.
Her constant work towards the betterment of others livesled to her becoming a symbol of hope and life during the Civil War reform era. She had an impacton not just African Americans, slaves, and women but also on the white people whose livesshe was changing and minds she was shaping.Sojourner Truth was born with the name Isabella Baumfree in a small town in New Yorkcalled Swartekill. Because she was a slave, her date of birth was not recorded but it is believedthat she was born sometime around 1797. Sojourner Truth had at least 12 brothers and sisters andher parents were both slaves, with her mother coming from Guinea and her father having beencaptured in Ghana.
Whenever their master died, the Baumfree’s were sold at auction and separated.At the time, Truth was 9 years old and sold with a flock of sheep for one hundred dollars. Hernew owners name was John Neely and he was harsh and violent. However, she did not stay therelong, and was sold two more times in the next two years, until she eventually found a more stablemaster in John Dumont. While she was there, she first learned how to speak English, for she hadpreviously only known Dutch. While working for Dumont, Truth fell in love with a slave from aneighboring farm named Robert. They had a daughter named Diana, however Roberts ownerforbid the relationship and the two never saw each other again after the birth of their daughter.Dumont suggested that Sojourner marry an older slave named Thomas and their marriage produceda son and two daughters.
In 1826, Dumont promised Truth emancipation however he didnot follow through, and as a result she ran away from his plantation with her infant daughter,having to leave the other children behind. Very shortly after she escaped Truth received news thather five year old son had been illegally sold into slavery to a man in Alabama. Sojourner took theissue to court and was able to successfully secure the return of her son from the South. This courtcase was one of the first in which a black woman successfully challenged a white man in a UnitedStates Court.Following many interesting and complicated life experiences, Truth became more involvedin evangelical work. On June 1, 1843, she officially changed her name from IsabellaBaumfree to Sojourner Truth to honor her new found dedication to Methodism. She soon afterbegan a “street-corner preaching” career. In 1844 she joined the Northampton Association of Educationand Industry which was founded by abolitionists and supported women’s rights.
Themembers of this organization established a Utopian community that ran a silk mill. Those whobelonged to this community worked to challenge the prevailing social attitudes of the day an believedthat “the rights of all are equal without the distinction of sex, color, or condition, sect orreligion.” Although this community lasted only 2 years, disbanding in 1846, it set the base forTruth’s ideal and beliefs and began her career as an activist. This community was a good placefor Sojourner to begin her career, as she was surrounded by like minded individuals who supportedher and helped her to grow an audience.
By the end of her time here she rose to greatprominence and prestige within the abolitionist community.From this point forward, Sojourners career quickly accelerated. She began to make politicalstatements and perform speeches to huge audiences.
During the American Civil War shehelped to recruit black troops for the Union army, even encouraging her own grandson to enlist.Sojourner rode in streetcars in Washington that were designated for whites in an attempt to forcedesegregation. She was unsuccessful at this, and when she was brutally knocked off of the Washingtonstreetcars she declared, “It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.
“While she was in Washington, it was requested that she meet with Abraham Lincoln at the WhiteHouse. Truth speaks on her meeting with President Lincoln in a letter that she wrote to RowlandJohnson. Truth discusses the way in which she thanked the President, saying that she believedhim to be the best president that had taken seat and that she was thankful for him.
While she wasthere, Lincoln showed her the Bible that the colored people of Baltimore presented to him, whichthoroughly impressed her. She concluded her letter by saying “I must say, and I am proud to say,that I never was treated by any one with more kindness and cordiality than were shown to me bythat great and good man, Abraham Lincoln, by the grace of God president of the United Statesfor four years more.”One of Truth’s most major life projects was her work to secure land grants from the federalgovernment for former slaves. She believed that the ownership of private property wouldgive African Americans the kind of self sufficiency that they needed to develop a free and independentlife. Despite Truth’s dedication to this project she was unable to sway congress. Anothercause that she was very passionate about was prison reform and was highly critical of capitalpunishment and spoke out on it on a number of occasions.
Michigan is where she did most of herwork on this subject due to the fact that it was her place of residence at the time, and she testifiedbefore the state legislature there. This occurred in June of 1881, when the members of the statelegislature of Michigan were considering a measure to institute the capital punishment in thestate. Truth made many outspoken remarks in her speech including “When a man kills another incold blood and you hang him, then you murder in cold blood also.
When a prisoner is put in jailto be hung, the ministers go to convert him and they pray that God will forgive him. When he isconverted, they put a rope around his neck and swing him off, but that is not Jesus’ law.” Followingher speech, she sang a hymn to the audience before they dispersed. Truth’s unconventionalmethod of getting her point across may have been odd but it it was successful in making peoplethink about the difficult things.In 1851, at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered aspeech that would not only be her most famous work but also what is recognized as one of themost famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history. The speech servedand continues to serve as a classic expression of women rights and a powerful rebuke to manyanti-feminist arguments of the day.
She included wisdom from Christianity to debunk opposingarguments from male ministers who were attempting to undermine the women’s work of the timeand declared she her feelings in her spontaneous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” In her short butpowerful speech, Truth spoke on the way in which women are undeniably equal to men and deservethe recognition that they have been denied for so long.While it may seem difficult to pinpoint exactly what conflict Truth was facing because, asyou can see, she came face to face with so many different challenging conflicts within her lifetime.The work that she did was not aimed at helping just one group of people, but rather a wholenation. Whether it be slaves, women, blacks, prisoners, or any other number of people in need,Truth went out of her way to ensure that she was doing whatever could be done to help those inneed that were deserving of a better life. While some of the things that she did may seem small,her impact was huge.
The speeches she gave to anxious onlookers who wanted to hear what shehad to say and the hours she spent in front of lawmakers and legislatures to try and sway theiropinions towards what was right are just two of the things that she did for the people of the UnitedStates of America. On top of this, she took a hands on approach to attempt to form a compromisefor the situations, including staging movements and boycotts to truly show a nation ofwrongdoers that she would not go down silently. Sojourner Truth was an extremely powerful andinspirational women who did not let anything keep her from her attempts to make the world abetter and more kind place for every person to live in.