Real name: Isabella Baumfree, born 1797?-1883
Much of Sojourner's life is a mystery. Like many slaves and former slaves in her era, she was illiterate. Her autobiography, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, was dictated to Olive Gilbert in the late 1840s.
During her lifetime, Truth was the first African American woman to crusade as an abolitionist. She also championed the rights of women. Since her death she has been held up as role models for every group imaginable. Marxists praise her for her identification with the common working folk, feminists invoke her name as a mother to modern womanism. By her own account, it was her Evangelical faith that inspired her more than anything. She never lost faith in God's justice which sometimes put her at odds with other abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass.
Truth was born around 1797, the second to last in a family of nearly 12 children, into slavery. Her owners were a Dutch couple, and Truth spoke Dutch exclusively the first years of her life. When she was 14 she was married off to an older slave also owned by the Dutch family. She and her husband has five children, one of whom died as an infant. Her slavers sold one of her children, a boy called Peter, illegally and with the help of some Quakers, Truth successfully sued to have her boy returned to her.
In the years that followed, she had a religious experience. In her autobiography, she recounts:
God revealed himself . . . with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her . . . that he pervaded the universe — "and that there was no place where God was not."
She became a Methodist in a largely white congregation and when New York abolished slavery in 1827, she was freed. She would take her son Peter and move to New York City to do God's Work.
She began preaching, travelling, and speaking about the evil of slavery. She then changed her name to Sojourner Truth. Despite her lack of formal education, Truth was known as a witty and dynamic orator. Her most famous speech, Ain't I A Woman was delivered at a women's rights convention in 1851.
I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that? . . . And how came Jesus into the world? Through God who created him and woman who bore him. Man, where is your part?
The speech proved to be the highpoint of Truth's career. She continued to speak and even met President Abraham Lincoln. She died at her daughter's home in 1883.