Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree): by Caroline R

Sojourner Truth was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who was born in 1797 and died on November 26, 1883. She was one of thirteen children, born in Swartekill, New York. She was born into slavery on the Hardenbergh estate, after her owner’s death her family was sold to his son. From 1806 to 1810 she was sold several times to many different abusive men. Then in 1815 she fell in love with a slave from a farm nearby, his name was Robert. He was beaten by his owner because of his relationship with Truth; they never saw each other again. In 1817 Sojourner was forced to marry a slave named Thomas, together they had five children.

1826 was when Truth finally found freedom. She escaped slavery with her infant daughter. She came across Issac and Maria Van Wagenen, a Quaker family who took her and her baby in. She lived with this family for a year, until New York’s Emancipation Act was legal. Living with the Quakers brought about many life changing events. She learned that her eight year old son was sold illegally to an owner in Alabama. The Quakers helped her take the issue to court and she eventually won back her son. She also became a Christian and in 1829 she was able to move to New York City and work as a housekeeper.

On June 1, 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth from Isabella Baumfree, she left the city to travel and preach about abolition. In 1844 she joined the North Hampton Association of Education and Industry in Massachusetts, this organization supported women’s rights. She met many influential people while in the group, including William Lloyd Garrison, who later published her memoirs. After living with the group for a few years she moved back to New York and continued work as a housekeeper, and was soon able to purchase her own home in Northampton.

In 1851 she left her home to join George Thompson, an abolitionist speaker and dedicated her life telling her story. She delivered her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” throughout the country, and at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. At one speech someone accused her of being a man; she opened her blouse and revealed her breasts. She later moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. During the Civil War she helped recruit black troops for the Union Army. In 1864 she took a job with the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington D.C.; she also met President Abraham Lincoln. In 1865 she rode in street cars to help force desegregation. Throughout 1870 she worked on a project that secured land grants for former slaves, she pursued this for seven years without success. In 1872 she tried to vote and was turned away.
Throughout Sojourner Truth’s life she spoke about abolition, prison reform and women’s rights. Not everyone welcomed her preaching but she had the support of many influential people. She proved to other women that they too could make a life for themselves and escape the imprisonment of being an African American woman in this time period. Her final words were, “Be a follower of the Lord Jesus.”

Yes, I remember learning about Sojourner Truth in grade school when we studied slavery. After reading Truth’s biography I see how important it is to stand up for what you believe in. There are several events and issues in our world that will affect our lives dramatically, we have the opportunity to speak out for what we believe, and we never know whose life we may change by doing so.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol and The Lifework of Sojourner Truth are books about her life.

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