Sojourner Truth: 5 Important Accomplishments
Born in New York in 1797, Sojourner Truth was a former slave who collaborated with a number of renowned 19th century activists all over the country in the fight for racial and gender equality before, during and after the Civil War. She is best known for escaping from the bondages of her abusive slave master and then going on to help countless blacks escape to freedom using the Underground Railroad. Sojourner Truth also made enormous contributions to the women’s suffrage movement.
Why is Sojourner Truth Significant?
Sojourner is also famous for giving several captivating speeches. Most renowned of those speeches was the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech she gave at the 1851 Women’s rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.
Sojourner Truth: Fast Facts
Born: Isabella Baumfree
Place of birth: Ulster County, New York/ Swartekill, New York
Died: November 26, 1883
Place of death: Battle Creek, Michigan, United States
Buried at: Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek
Most known for: “Ain’t I a Woman” speech; advocating racial and gender equality before, during and after the Civil War
Father: James Baumfree
Mother: Elizabeth Baumfree
Children: James (died in his childhood), Diana (born in 1815), Peter (born in 1821), Elizabeth (born in 1825), Sophia (born in c. 1826)
Achievements of Sojourner Truth
How did a former slave, who could not read or write, become such an eloquent speaker? And how did she use her wit and intelligence to disarm the rowdiest of crowds?
Here’s a look at the life achievements of Sojourner Truth, one of America’s greatest abolitionists and civil rights activists.
Sojourner Truth escaped to freedom in 1826
After enduring harsh treatments, rapes and abuse from numerous slave masters, Sojourner Truth decided to escape to freedom in 1826.
In her thirties, Truth had already given birth to five children; one of her children – Diana (born in 1815) – was the product of rape by her master John Dumont. A year prior to the State of New York’s emancipation of slaves in July 1827, Dumont had promised to free Truth on the condition that she works very hard and stays faithful. However, Dumont reneged on his promise. Truth then took matters into her hands and broke free with her infant daughter Sophia.
Truth took shelter at the home of the Van Wagenen in New Paltz. Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who were Quakers, took in Truth and her child Sophia. Inspired by her bravery, the Van Wagenens paid Dumont $20 for his loss. Once the emancipation order took effect in the state, Sojourner became a free woman.
She fought tooth and nail to liberate her five-year-old son
The reason she left her other children was because per the New York emancipation order the children were not free until they served Dumont into their twenties. Luck would shine on her after she discovered that her five-year-old son was sold by Dumont illegally to a slaver in Alabama.
Not willing to back down, she and the Van Wagenens took the case to court. After an intense court proceeding, the lawyers for Sojourner Truth were able to recover Truth’s son. Thus, Sojourner Truth was not just one of the first black women to file a lawsuit against a white person, but she was also the first black woman to win a case against a white person in court.
Sojourner devoted her entire life to preaching against slavery
After a number of housekeeping jobs in the state, she changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth in 1843. By this time, she had also become a staunch Methodist. She desired nothing more than to travel the length and breadth of the country to preach God’s message – a message against slavery.
According to her, she was inspired by the voice she heard from God. As she travelled through the Connecticut River Valley, she developed quite a following and many people came to appreciate her passion for preaching.
She helped in recruiting black troops for the Union during the Civil War
Completely committed to the cause of the Union forces during the American Civil War, Sojourner Truth played a crucial role in the recruitment of black troops for the Union army. Even one of her grandsons, James Caldwell, enlisted in the Union forces, fighting in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
During the Civil War, she also worked at the National Freedman’s Relief Association in Washington D.C. She helped implement programs that did the world of good for thousands of African Americans. Sojourner’s commitment to ending slavery, as well as her commitment to the Union, earned her several praises in the nation’s capital. In October of 1864, she had the honor of meeting President Abraham Lincoln.
She was an eloquent public speaker and women’s rights advocate
Of all the memorable speeches Sojourner Truth gave in the 19th century, perhaps the most famous of them all was the one that came to be called the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. She delivered that speech at the 1851 Women’s rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. There have been varied accounts as to how welcoming the audience at that event was.
According to an 1863 report by Frances Dana Barker Gage, the crowd was very hostile to Sojourner, hissing at her throughout the speech. Other eyewitnesses who were present at the convention beg to differ, stating that the crowd warmly received Truth and other leaders of the convention.
In any case, Sojourner’s speech on that day was full of her unwavering support of equal human rights for all gender and races. She was composed throughout the speech, as she communicated how crucial it was for discrimination to end in order to fulfill the goals of the Declaration of Independence – i.e. the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.
According to the 1868 account by Frances Gage, Truth repeatedly asked the question “Ain’t I a Woman?” to the audience. Her speech that day was so powerful that it would come to be etched in annals of American history.
Other famous speeches of Sojourner Truth include the ones at: Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Florence, Massachusetts in 1844; the National Women’s Rights convention in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1850; and American Equal Rights Association in May, 1867.
Her first anti-slavery speech took occurred in 1844, when she was a member of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Florence, Massachusetts. It was in this group that she got introduced to abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. She joined forces with those abolitionists to promote women’s rights, religious tolerance and pacifism.
Read More: Susan B. Anthony – 10 Major Accomplishments
Other interesting facts about Sojourner Truth
- She spent the first nine years of her life on an estate at Swartekill, Esopus, New York.
- She grew up speaking Dutch as her first language. She would later learn to speak English fluently.
- After the death of her first master, Charles Hardenbergh, in 1806, she was sold to John Neely. She was abused by Neely on several occasions, receiving beatings on a daily basis. Neely later sold her for $105 to Martinus Schryver in Port Ewen, New York. 18 months later, she was again sold to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Aside from being raped by Dumont, Dumont’s wife was cruel to Sojourner Truth.
- In 1815, she started seeing Robert, a slave owned by a landscape painter called Charles Catton, Jr. Because Charles would not be entitled to the children of Truth, he disapproved of Robert and Truth seeing each other. In one instance, the Charles family beat Robert to pulp for sneaking out to see Sojourner. Robert would die a few years later.
- While working at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington D.C., she boarded the streetcars to show her rejection of segregation laws in the country.
- Inspired by some the works done by Ulysses S. Grant, Sojourner Truth lent her support to President Grant’s presidential campaign. She even tried to vote on Election Day; however, she was quickly evicted from the place. Women by then did not have the right to vote. Regardless, it was firm statement that Sojourner made – she was not the kind to back down on the struggle for equality in the United States.
- Over the course of her life, she worked and collaborated with some really amazing human rights activists, including Wendell Philips, Susan B. Anthony, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, Ellen G. White, Parker Pillsbury, and Frances Gage.
- In 1851, she went on a lecture tour throughout central and western New York State. She was in the company of renowned abolitionists, including George Thompson.
- In the course of her life she gave several hundreds of speeches, inspiring future generations of women’s rights activists.
- Sojourner Truth had a knack for remaining very composed when giving speeches on human rights for women and blacks. She was hardly fazed by the audiences – some of which were very hostile towards her.
- She was able to defuse an intense situation, where a group of rowdy young men threatened to set ablaze the camp she was in. even though she was the only black woman, she did not flinch. She climbed to a small hill top and started singing [the song “It was Early in the Morning”]. Her song was able to calm the nerves of the men, who later left the camp without harming anyone.
- Being a devout Christian, it was not uncommon for her to make religious references in her speeches. One of her favorite Bible reference was the story of Esther. She has quoted the text “honor thy father and thy mother” to support her argument as to why women needed the same rights as men. For example, she eloquently used Bible stories at the American Equal Rights Association in May, 1867 to advocate rights for black men and black women.
- When she was a slave, Sojourner Truth endured some of the most terrible of things that could be meted out to a human being. She was often times beaten by her master for not understanding English. Once she took to preaching and activism, she is believed to have let go of all the hatred she had for those that abused her.
- For close to a decade, she devoted her time to petitioning the federal government to granting lands in the west for African Americans. She believed that those lands would allow the blacks to make something of themselves. In spite of her efforts, those land grants never came to fruition.
- At the Second Annual Convention of the American Woman Suffrage Association in Boston in 1871, Sojourner Truth stated that it is in the interest of the whole nation that women be empowered and be not denied their rights, especially voting rights and reproductive health rights.
- Even though she was an illiterate, she was one of the most eloquent orators of her time. In 1850, she dictated her experiences, both during and after slavery, to Olive Gilbert. Her story was later published under the title The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: a Northern Slave.
- In 2009, a bust of Sojourner Truth was unveiled at the Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. This made her the first African American woman to have a statue in the Capitol building. The sculpture was made by Artis Lane.
- In 2014, Smithsonian magazine included her in their list of 100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.
- She is believed to have had 10-12 siblings. Her parents were James Baumfree and Elizabeth Baumfree. Her parents were purchased by Colonel Hardenbergh.
- In 1981, Sojourner Truth was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
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