Wednesday March 13
Brief Biography of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Bomfree, enslaved in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, NY in 1797. She was bought and sold four times, and subjected to harsh physical labor and violent punishments. In her teens, she was united with man who was also enslaved. Together they had five children. In 1827, Truth ran away with her infant Sophia to a nearby abolitionist family, the Van Wageners. The family bought her freedom for twenty dollars and helped Truth successfully sue for the return of her five-year-old-son Peter, who was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama.
Truth moved to NYC in 1828, where she worked for a local minister. By the early 1830s, she participated in the religious revivals sweeping the state and became a charismatic speaker. In 1843, she declared that the Spirit called on her to preach the truth, renaming herself Sojourner Truth.
As an itinerant preacher, Truth gave speeches about the evils of slavery. In 1850, she dictated —The Narrative of Sojourner Truth—to Olive Gilbert. Truth survived on sales of the book, which brought her national recognition. She met women’s rights activists, as well as temperance advocates—both causes she championed. In 1851, Truth began a lecture tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality.
During the 1850’s, Truth settled in Battle Creek, MI, where three of her daughters lived. She continued speaking nationally and helped people who were enslaved escape to freedom. When the Civil War started, Truth urged young men to join the Union and organized supplies for black troops. After the war, she was invited to the White House and became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed men and women find jobs and build new lives. While in DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid-1860s, when a streetcar conductor tried to violently block her from riding, she ensured his arrest and won her subsequent case. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide freed persons with land, though Congress never took action. Nearly blind and deaf towards the end of her life, Truth spent her final years in Michigan.
Adapted from Debra Michals,
Recommended Reading about Sojourner Truth:
Narrative of Sojourner Truth, Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, Nell Irvin Painter
Sojourner Truth’s America, Margaret Washington