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Sojourner Truth: An Extraordinary 19th Century Spokeswoman

For the remainder of March, which is Women’s History Month, and in deference to the magnificent Black women who have been at the forefront of Black America’s never-ending battle for equality in this country, I will feature one of those heroes. I begin with a short biography of the life of Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist spokeswoman and a fighter for women’s equality during the turbulent 19th Century. Sojourner Truth was born enslaved under the name of Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Swartekill, New York. While in bondage, she gave birth to five children who were also enslaved. In late 1826, just prior to the state of New York abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827, she escaped and declared her freedom. Shortly after her escape, one of her children, her five-year-old son Peter, had been illegally sold to a man in Alabama. She was determined that he would not remain a slave. She went to court and won the return of her son from the South. The victory represented the first time a Black woman successfully challenged a white man in the court. From the 1840s through 1850s, Truth traveled the country speaking out against slavery and supporting women’s rights. In 1851, she addressed a large women’s rights movement in Akron, Ohio, and it was there she made her most famous utterance. Many of the white women at the gathering insisted that Truth not be allowed to speak. But her insistence won out and she delivered her “Ain’t I A Woman?” …

For the remainder of March, which is Women’s History Month, and in deference to the magnificent Black women who have been at the forefront of Black America’s never-ending battle for equality in this country, I will feature one of those heroes. I begin with a short biography of the life of Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist spokeswoman and a fighter for women’s equality during the turbulent 19th Century.

Sojourner Truth was born enslaved under the name of Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Swartekill, New York. While in bondage, she gave birth to five children who were also enslaved. In late 1826, just prior to the state of New York abolishing slavery on July 4, 1827, she escaped and declared her freedom. Shortly after her escape, one of her children, her five-year-old son Peter, had been illegally sold to a man in Alabama. She was determined that he would not remain a slave. She went to court and won the return of her son from the South. The victory represented the first time a Black woman successfully challenged a white man in the court.

From the 1840s through 1850s, Truth traveled the country speaking out against slavery and supporting women’s rights. In 1851, she addressed a large women’s rights movement in Akron, Ohio, and it was there she made her most famous utterance. Many of the white women at the gathering insisted that Truth not be allowed to speak. But her insistence won out and she delivered her “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech. She was so impressive with her words and delivery that she was welcomed into the women’s movement with open arms.

During the Civil War, Truth remained active with the Union Army, recruiting Black Americans to serve in the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. She was so effective in her efforts that President Abraham Lincoln invited her to address the future of the freed slaves in this country. After Emancipation, Truth continued to speak out against discrimination in any form. During this period, she challenged her fellow abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, who argued that equal rights for the Black man should take precedence over the same rights for Black women.

Until the end of her life on November 26, 1887, Sojourner Truth remained active and continued to speak out on universal suffrage, women’s rights and even prison reform. Unlike many of the Black men leading the cause for freedom, she rejected their hypocrisy when they put the needs of the man above those of the woman. She viewed them all as equal, and she is one of the only historical figures to date who can be viewed as an abolitionist and women’s rights spokesperson during the turbulent 19th Century.

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