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Sojourner Truth

SOJOURNER TRUTH (1797–1883)

Sojourner Truth, three-quarter-length portrait, standing, wearing spectacles, shawl, and peaked cap, right hand resting on cane, Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Sojourner Truth Collection (MMC). http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c19343

Noted abolitionist, woman's rights advocate, and religious leader, Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, New York, as Isabella Baumfree to enslaved parents. Freed in 1827 and the mother of five children, she moved in 1829 to New York City and became associated with a religious sect.

In 1843, she took the name of Sojourner Truth in accordance with what she said was a call from God to “travel up and down the land,” spreading the gospel. She regularly appeared at camp meetings, where she sang and preached. In 1843 Truth began her association with an abolitionist group in Northampton, Massachusetts. Later, she began working on behalf of the woman's rights movement. In 1853 she spoke at the Ohio Woman's Rights Convention, delivering what has become known as the “Ain't I a Woman” speech. Historical evidence does not substantiate Truth's speaking the words attributed to her by journalist Frances Gage more than a decade later.

In 1857, Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. After the outbreak of the American Civil War, she helped to recruit African American troops to fight for the Union. During the war and afterward, she took up a number of important issues. She helped to integrate the streetcars in the nation's capital, and for years she sought federal land grants for freedpeople. She served with the National Freedmen's Relief Association, which aided and counseled formerly enslaved African Americans, and worked with the Freedmen's Hospital in Washington, D.C.

An important reformer in her day, Truth associated with many other well-known reform leaders, among them Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, and Abraham Lincoln. Truth died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883.

Suggested Reading:

Mabee, Carleton. “Sojourner Truth and President Lincoln.” New England Quarterly 61, no. 4 (December 1988): 519–529.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Related Links:

Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Project in Northampton, Massachusetts

Sojourner Truth Institute, Michigan Humanities Council, Timeline

Truth, Sojourner, and Olive Gilbert. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. 1850

PBS: This Far by Faith: African American Spiritual Journeys:Sojourner Truth