Sojourner Truth was considered one of Smithsonian’s “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.” She is a figure who should be remembered, spoken about, and admired. Here is her biography.
Many women participated in the fight for African-Americans, especially African-American women, to have equal rights. One of these important women is Sojourner Truth.
She was born into slavery, but later escaped from it. Known for her speeches, activism, accomplishments, and fights against slavery, she is a woman with a massive legacy who will be remembered for her courage for centuries.
Plans for her to appear on American currency in 2020 in honor of the centennial of women gaining the right to vote in America are in place. She was one of the most notable African-American women to speak out on issues such as civil rights and abolition.
Sojourner Truth’s Early Life
Sojourner Truth was believed to have been born in 1797. She was born a slave, to slave parents James and Elizabeth Baumgree. Her birth name was Isabelle, but later in life, in 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth, because she believed that God had called upon her to go to the countryside and testify the hope that was within her.
She was sold several different times to different slave owners. One of her slave owners was named John Dumont, who overall treated her kindly, although his wife harassed her frequently.
In 1815, while Sojourner was still a slave, she entered a relationship with a fellow slave, even though any relationship was forbidden by her boyfriend’s slave owner. When they were caught in their relationship, Sojourner’s boyfriend, whose name was Robert, was so severely beaten by his slave owner that he ended up dying from his injuries.
It is believed that Robert was the father of one of Sojourner’s children. Afterwards, she married another slave named Thomas, with whom she had four children.
The Historical Case
Sojourner was living in New York at this time, and she ended up escaping from slavery with her daughter, Sophia, and began to work as a domestic servant.
Unfortunately, when Sojourner escaped, she was forced to leave behind her other children, as they were not legally allowed to be freed until their twenties.
The next year, slavery was banned in New York. Even though New York was a free state, Sojourner learned that her son, Peter, was sold as a slave in Alabama, where slavery was rampant. She filed a lawsuit against her former slave owner, John Dupont, with the help of the family for whom she worked as a domestic servant.
She ended up winning the case against Dupont, and Peter was brought back to New York from Alabama. He had been badly treated in Alabama in the place where he was sold.
Beginning of Sojourner Truth Activism
Sojourner Truth freeing herself from slavery marked the beginning of her accomplished life. During this time period, she started to be a religious person, eventually becoming an evangelical Christian.
Being religious was a great comfort for her after all that she had suffered in her life as a slave. In 1843, she officially changed her name to Sojourner Truth, because it marked a new beginning for her in her life.
Sojourner Truth’s main cause was fighting for the abolition of slavery, but she also was an ardent supporter of women’s rights, religious tolerance, pacifism, and reforms in prisons.
She had met several prominent abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. In 1850, she published her autobiography, with the help of William Lloyd Garrison. It was titled “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.”
The income from her biography allowed Sojourner to travel around the country and speak about her many causes and accomplishments.
In the 1840’s, she gave one of her most memorable speeches at an abolitionist convention in Boston, Massachusetts. During this speech, she sang a song which she had written to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” which she called “I Am Pleading For My People.”
In 1851, Sojourner Truth delivered her most famous speech, which later began to be known as “Ain’t I A Woman?”
In this speech, she demanded that women and African-Americans have equal rights. It was delivered at the Women’s Convention in Ohio.
While many different versions of the speech exist, the overall meaning of the speech is that Sojourner has worked just as much as a man during her time as a slave; why should she as a woman and an African-American not have the same rights as her male counterparts would have?
Several different writings of the speech include her having said it in a Southern accent, despite the fact that Sojourner was from New York and Dutch was her native language. Nevertheless, it was one of the most key speeches of her lifetime.
During a speech she gave in 1853, Sojourner was treated rudely by her audience, where young men began to hiss and groan at her. In response, she is quoted as saying, “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway. You can’t stop us, neither.”
Sojourner Truth’s Impact
Over the next two decades, Sojourner continued to give many speeches, in an era where public speaking was very popular. Usually reserved solely for white men, she was an unusual sight, being a six-foot-tall black woman.
However, many people demanded to see Sojourner Truth’s speeches, as she spoke from the heart, and she spoke from direct experience as she spent many years of her life as a slave. Her booming voice captivated audiences all across the country.
During this entire time, Truth never learned how to read or write. This was the era of the Civil War, where the topic of slavery was highly controversial and one which divided the entire nation. She helped recruit black soldiers and rallied for supplies in support of the Union Army.
She wanted to also improve the lives of freed slaves in Washington D.C. She also, albeit unsuccessfully, attempted to secure land grants from the federal government for freed slaves.
The Emancipation Proclamation in 1864 was one of the few political achievements that Sojourner Truth saw become a reality during her lifetime. Most of the other political campaigns that she rallied for became laws after she had died.
However, as all people who fight for just causes, there were people who were against Truth. During some of her speeches, audiences treated her with disrespect, and would hiss and groan during her speech.
There were even people who were skeptical that she might actually have been a man. This was a common taunt used against influential female public speakers.
Harriet Tubman is another example of a woman who was a victim of such treatment. However, Sojourner Truth never let such comments get to her. During a speech in 1858, someone interrupted her by shouting that Sojourner was actually a man. In response, Sojourner showed her breasts, clearly dispelling any such claims.
Afterwards, Sojourner turned her attention to other issues, particularly women’s rights. In 1872, Sojourner tried to vote in the presidential election, but at the polling booth, she was turned away. Because of her many accomplishments and speeches, Sojourner Truth had the chance to meet both Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant.
Sojourner Truth, nearing the end of her life, grew increasingly frail. She died on November 26, 1887, at approximately 87 years old.
Sojourner Truth’s Legacy
Sojourner Truth will continue to be remembered for generations, and was widely remembered long after her death. A sculpture was made of her in 1999 by Tina Allen, in honor of what was estimated to be the 200th anniversary of Sojourner Truth’s birth.
She was the first black woman to have a bust in the U.S. Capitol in 2009. In 2016, it was announced by the United States Department of Treasury that Sojourner Truth will appear on a $10 bill in honor of the centennial of women’s suffrage in America.
She will appear on this bill alongside other prominent women’s rights activists such as Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul, and the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession.
Other honors awarded to her include: having the meeting between her and Abraham Lincoln be painted, having Interstate 194 in Michigan being named after her, having commemorative postal stamps featuring her, having more statues being created in her honor, and more.
It is important to remember and recognize historical figures who helped fight for all the rights we have today. Sojourner Truth is one of many accomplished women who helped pave the way for women to have the right to vote, for slaves to be free, and more people to have rights all across America and ultimately, all across the world.
Check Out Other Posts Related to Sojourner Truth: Her Biography, Accomplishments & Speech
- Women Traveling Alone: 7 Reasons To Start A Solo Vacations | The Best And The Worst Places To Travel Alone
- Equal Pay For Equal Work: Learn More About The Laws Concerning The Existing Gender Pay Gap
- Gender Inequality Examples Worldwide: Cases Of Gender-Based Inequality In Media And Entertainment