Photo: Upward by Llima Orosa / CC BY-ND 2.0

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was one of twelve children Her parents, Elizabeth and James Baumfree were purchased by a Colonel Hardenbergh for his estate north of New York City. When Hardenbergh died she was sold to John Neely whom she remembered as cruel and harsh. She was subsequently sold twice more. She fell in love with a slave named Robert whose owner forbade the relationship. Robert was punished severely for an attempt to see Truth and she never saw him again. Truth eventually married a slave named Thomas with whom she had five children.

Although the state of New York had decided to abolish slavery, Truth’s owner kept postponing her release. Finally in 1826 she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter, Sophia. She found refuge with a couple in New York and remained with them until the New York State Emancipation Act was approved. It was during her stay with them that she experienced a religious conversion and became a devout Christian.

In 1843 she became a Methodist and changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She spent the rest of her life supporting women’s right, religious tolerance and pacifism. She was a speaker at the first National Women’s Right Convention in 1854 Truth is perhaps most famous for her speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”

In 1857 Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where she joined other Michigan abolitionists.For the rest of her life she labored for the recognition of African Americans as equal citizens. Truth died at her Battle Creek home on November 26, 1883.

The Lord has made me a sign unto this nation, an’ I go round a “testifyin’ an’ showin’ their sins agin my people. My name was Isabella, but when I left the house of bondage, I left everything behind. I wan’t goin’ to keep nothin’ of Egypt on me, an’ so I went to the Lord an’ asked him to give me a new name. An the Lord gave me Sojourner, because I was to travel up an’ down the land, shown’ the people their sins, an’ bein’ a sign unto them. Afterward I told the Lord I wanted another name, ‘cause everybody else had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the Truth to the people…I journeys round to campmeetin’s, an’ wherever folks is, an’ I sets up my banner, an’ then I sings, an ‘then folks always come up round me, an’ then I preaches to ‘em. I tells em about Jesus, an’ I tells ‘em about the sins of this people.

Excerpt from Online class: Holy Women in History

The film below remembers one of Sojourner Truth’s speeches.