Sojourner Truth lived more than a century ago, but she remains an important national symbol for strong women of all races.
Because her mother was a slave, when Sojourner Truth was born in New York State in 1797 she was a slave. She was given the name Isabella. At the age of nine, Isabella was taken away from her parents and sold to a different owner. She worked hard, but like most slaves, her master whipped her. After one whipping, she remembered her “blood run down [on] the floor.”
Isabella was sold twice more before becoming a free person in 1826.
A few years later, her life changed dramatically. According to Isabella, God had given her a new name. She would be called Sojourner Truth. She then began traveling or “sojourning” across the North to tell people the “truth” about slavery. Standing six feet tall with a deep voice, Sojourner gave powerful speeches. According to one observer, listeners were “melted into tears by her touching stories.”
Besides giving talks about the evils of slavery, Sojourner composed her autobiography. Since she could neither read nor write, she told her life’s story to a friend who wrote it down. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth was published in 1850.
In the late 1850s, Sojourner moved to Battle Creek, Michigan.
During the Civil War, Sojourner traveled to Washington, DC, and met President Abraham Lincoln. She remembered that no one had ever treated her “with more kindness and cordiality than … that great and good man.” Sojourner stayed in Washington and helped former slaves (called freedmen).
After the war, Sojourner continued to campaign for woman’s rights, especially the right to vote.
On November 26, 1883, at the age of 86, Sojourner Truth died. Her funeral was one of the largest ever-held in Battle Creek. Frederick Douglass, the nation’s most respected African American leader of the time, said that for forty years Sojourner Truth had been “an object of respect and admiration to social reformers everywhere.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who led the campaign to get women the right to vote, were more direct. They said she was “the most wonderful woman the [black] race ever produced.”
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