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Truth, Sojourner

Sojourner Truth

Born: 1797
Ulster County, New York
Died: November 26, 1883
Battle Creek, Michigan

African American abolitionist

One of the most famous nineteenth-century black American women, Sojourner Truth was an uneducated former slave who actively opposed slavery. Though she never learned to read or write, she became a moving speaker for black freedom and women's rights. While many of her fellow black abolitionists (people who campaigned for the end of slavery) spoke only to blacks, Truth spoke mainly to whites. While they spoke of violent uprisings, she spoke of reason and religious understanding.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree around 1797 on an estate owned by Dutch settlers in Ulster County, New York. She was the second youngest in a slave family of the ten or twelve children of James Baumfree and his wife Elizabeth (known as "Mau-Mau Bett"). When her owner died in 1806, Isabella was put up for auction. Over the next few years, she had several owners who treated her poorly. John Dumont purchased her when she was thirteen, and she worked for him for the next seventeen years.

In 1817 the state of New York passed a law granting freedom to slaves born before July 4, 1799. However, this law declared that those slaves could not be freed until July 4, 1827. While waiting ten years for her freedom, Isabella married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had five children. As the date of her release approached, she realized that Dumont was plotting to keep her enslaved. In 1826 she ran away, leaving her husband and her children behind.

Wins court case to regain son

Three important events took place in Isabella's life over the next two years. She found refuge with Maria and Isaac Van Wagenen, who bought her from Dumont and gave her freedom. She then underwent a religious experience, claiming from that point on she could talk directly to God. Lastly, she sued to retrieve her son Peter, who had been sold illegally to a plantation owner in Alabama. In 1828, with the help of a lawyer, Isabella became the first black woman to take a white man to court and win.

Soon thereafter, Isabella moved with Peter to New York City and began following Elijah Pierson, who claimed to be a prophet. He was soon joined by another religious figure known as Matthias, who claimed to be the Messiah. They formed a cult known as the "Kingdom" and moved to Sing Sing (renamed Ossining) in southeast New York in 1833. Isabella grew apart from them and stayed away from their activities. But when Matthias was arrested for murdering Pierson, she was accused of being an accomplice. A white couple in the cult, the Folgers, also claimed that Isabella had tried to poison them. For the second time, she went to court. She was found innocent in the Matthias case, and decided to file a slander suit against the Folgers. In 1835 she won, becoming the first black person to win such a suit against a white person.

Changes name

For the next eight years, Isabella worked as a household servant in New York City. In 1843, deciding her mission was to preach the word of God, Isabella changed her name to Sojourner Truth and left the city. Truth traveled throughout New England, attending and holding prayer sessions. She supported herself with odd jobs and often slept outside. At the end of the year, she joined the Northampton Association, a Massachusetts community founded on the ideas of freedom and equality. It is through the Northampton group that Truth met other social reformers and abolitionists, including Frederick Douglass (18171895), who introduced her to their movement.

During the 1850s, the issue of slavery heated up in the United States. In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, which allowed runaway slaves to be arrested and jailed without a jury trial. In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Dred Scott (1795?1858) that slaves had no rights as citizens and that the government could not outlaw slavery in new territories.

Lectures to hostile crowds

The results of the Scott case and the unsettling times did not frighten Truth away from her mission. Her life story, Narrative of Sojourner Truth, cowritten with Olive Gilbert, was published in 1850. She then headed west and made stops in town after town to speak about her experiences as a slave and her eventual freedom. Her colorful and down-to-earth style often soothed the hostile crowds she faced. While on her travels, Truth noted that while women could be leaders in the abolitionist movement, they could neither vote nor hold public office. Realizing she was discriminated against on two fronts, Truth became an outspoken supporter of women's rights.

By the mid-1850s, Truth had earned enough money from sales of her popular autobiography to buy land and a house in Battle Creek, Michigan. She continued her lectures, traveling throughout the Midwest. When the Civil War began in 1861, she visited black troops stationed near Detroit, Michigan, offering them encouragement. Shortly after meeting U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (18091865) in October 1864, she decided to stay in the Washington area to work at a hospital and counsel freed slaves.

Continues fight for freed slaves

Following the end of the Civil War, Truth continued to work with freed slaves. After her arm had been dislocated by a streetcar conductor who had refused to let her ride, she fought for and won the right for blacks to share Washington streetcars with whites. For several years she led a campaign to have land in the West set aside for freed blacks, many of whom were poor and homeless after the war. She carried on her lectures for the rights of blacks and women throughout the 1870s. Failing health, however, soon forced Truth to return to her Battle Creek home. She died there on November 26, 1883.

For More Information

Gilbert, Olive. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. Boston: Self-published, 1850. Reprint, New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Krass, Peter. Sojourner Truth. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Mabee, Carleton, with Susan Mabee Newhouse. Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

McKissack, Patricia, and Fredrick McKissack. Sojourner Truth: A Voice for Freedom. Hillside, NJ: Enslow, 1992.

Painter, Nell Irvin. Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. New York: Norton, 1996.

Rockwell, Anne F. Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

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Truth, Sojourner (1797-1883)

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883)

Source

Abolitionist, reformer

Early Life in Slavery. Isabella was born around 1797 on the estate of a Dutch patroon in Ulster County, New York, where her parents were slaves. Her first language was Dutch, and she would speak with an accent all her life. One of the formative events of her early childhood was witnessing her parents grief over the loss of children who had been sold away. When she was nine Isabella herself was sold, and she was sold several more times in her early life. She worked from 1810 to 1827 in the household of John J. Dumont of New Paltz, New York. There she married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had at least five children: two daughters and a son were sold away from her. When Dumont demanded that she serve another year after New York declared slavery illegal, Bomefree escaped. That year she also became a Christian; her religious commitments, combined with a deep knowledge of the Bible, would influence her profoundly throughout her life. Isaac and Maria Van Wagener took her in, and she adopted their last name. With the help of Quaker friends she successfully sued her former owner for the return of her son Peter, who had been sold illegally to an Alabama planter.

Freedom and Faith. Around 1829 Isabella Van Wagener moved to New York City with her two youngest children, Peter and Sophia. She joined the Methodist Church and adopted the evangelistic, perfectionist religious beliefs that inspired her own mystical faith. Throughout her life she would hear voices and see visions. In New York she met Elijah Pierson, a wealthy and erratic social reformer whose primary work was with prostitutes, and joined Pierson and his wife in preaching in the streets. In the 1830s Van Wagener moved to a commune in Ossining, New York, remaining there for five years. She eventually returned to New York City, where she lived quietly and attended the African Zion Church, until 1843, when an inner voice told her to change her name to Sojourner Truth. She became an itinerant minister, traveling around the Connecticut River valley to preach, sing, pray, and evangelize at camp meetings, in churches, or wherever she could find shelter and an audience. Her message was that God was loving and perfect, and that human beings had nothing to fear from him. She said often that God is from everlasting to everlasting and that Truth burns up error. She believed that God was present everywhere and that all beings lived in him as fishes in the sea. In the winter of 1843 Sojourner Truth moved to the Northampton Industrial Association, another utopian community, where she lived until 1846. There she met important members of the abolitionist movement, including Frederick Douglass and George Benson, brother-in-law of the antislavery leader William Lloyd Garrison. As a result of this experience, abolitionism and womens rights became important to Sojourner Truth and were always expressed in her preaching. She never compromised on the importance of these causes, disagreeing with abolitionists such as Douglass, who maintained that equality for women ought to be subordinated to the elimination of slavery.

Autobiography and Speeches. In 1850 Truth published her autobiography, ghostwritten by Olive Gilbert. She supported herself by selling The Narrative of Sojourner Truth at womens rights meetings for twenty-five cents a copy. Truths Arnt I a Woman? speech at the Akron Womens Rights Convention in 1850 has gone down in history as one of the most significant expressions of the combined abolitionist and womens rights movement. When Truth rose to speak she was severely heckled; undaunted, she pointed out that as a female slave she had experienced the profound grief of having her own children sold away and had had to work like a man all her life; she then asked, And arnt I a woman? She left the stage to tumultuous applause. At a womens rights convention in Indiana she responded to charges that she was a man posing as a woman by baring her breast to her accusers.

Civil War and Freedpeoples Rights. In the mid 1850s Truth moved with her daughters to Battle Creek, Michigan, a center of religious and antislavery reform movements. There she joined a commune called Harmonia. During the Civil War she met President Abraham Lincoln and worked on freed slaves relief projects such as the Freedmens Hospital and the Freedmens Village at Arlington Heights, Virginia. One of her grandsons served in the celebrated black regiment, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers. In an article that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly during the war the antislavery writer Harriet Beecher Stowe immortalized Truth as the Libyan Sybil; the name would be associated with Truth for the rest of her life. After the war Truth worked tirelessly to assist former slaves; in 1870 she sent a petition to Congress, signed by hundreds of supporters, pleading for the allocation of government lands in the West to former slaves. Although Congress took no action on the petition, her outspoken support of western migration inspired thousands of former slaves to establish homesteads in Kansas. She traveled throughout Kansas and Missouri, exhorting the former slaves to Be clean! for cleanliness is godliness. She also continued to speak to white audiences in the Northeast, preaching her message of a loving God and advocating temperance, woman suffrage, and equal rights for blacks.

Final Years. In the mid 1870s Truths autobiography was revised and republished. She continued to travel and speak on social reform issues such as temperance as long as she was able, and she received hundreds of visitors in Battle Creek until her death on 26 November 1883. Her funeral was said to have been the largest ever held in Battle Creek.

Source

Olive Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth (Boston, 1850);

Nell Irvin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (New York: Norton, 1996).

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Truth, Sojourner

Truth, Sojourner c. 17971883

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Sojourner Truth was born a slave in Ulster County, New York. Her masters at birth were the Hardenburgh family, descendents of Dutch patroon planters, and she was named Isabella Baumfree at birth. During her lifetime she was sold several times, married Thomas Dumont, another slave, and had at least four children with him. In 1827 New York freed all remaining slaves, but Isabella had already left her owners. After the abolition of slavery, she successfully sued her former owners to obtain the freedom of one of her children, whom they had transferred to Alabama.

The 1830s were a time of great religious ferment, called the Second Great Awakening. Isabella was caught up in the movement, and she traveled around the northeast and settled in several religious communes. It was about this time that she began calling herself Sojourner Truth and became an itinerant preacher.

In the 1840s she became active in the abolitionist movement, and she worked with many abolitionist leaders such as Frederick Douglass (18171895) and William Lloyd Garrison (18051879). She was in great demand as a speaker, and her memoir The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave, was dictated to and edited by abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe (18111896).

Sojourner Truth also became involved in womens rights issues. Like many abolitionists, she saw a connection between the issues of womens liberation and freedom for blacks. Her most famous speech, Aint I A Woman?, was delivered at a womens rights conference in 1851. The speech was transcribed by another woman abolitionist, Frances Gage, who published it almost thirty years later. Gages text is the only record of Sojourner Truths oratorical style, and it is written in nonstandard English. It is unclear if that is really the way Sojourner Truth spoke. Contemporaries, both black and white, always described her as a riveting speaker, and nobody ever suggested that her English was poor or difficult to understand. Nonetheless, the speech as transcribed shows some of the power of Sojourner Truths oratory: the biblical or theological arguments mixed with homely, rural simile, the chatty tone, the repetition of and aint I a woman? and other rhetorical elements that have made this speech a classic of early feminism.

When the Civil War (18611865) broke out, Sojourner Truth worked for better conditions for blacks in the Union military and against segregation in northern cities. After the war she called for the establishment of a Negro state in the west. She also supported the Freedmans Bureau and tried to help black war refugees and the newly freed people in the South find jobs and housing. She continued to work for womens rights, civil rights for blacks, and temperance (laws restricting alcohol consumption) until her death in 1883.

Sojourner Truth is important because she helped set the terms of reference for the debate over slavery, civil rights for blacks after the Civil War, and womens rights in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. She is probably as important a figure as any of the other well-known abolitionistsDouglass, Garrison, Beecher Stoweespecially because as a black woman she has inherent credibility on both black and womens issues. She is also important as an example of a little-appreciated phenomenon, the link between Protestant evangelical Christianity, abolitionism, and womens liberation. It is important to realize that in the middle of the 1800s, evangelical Christians were more likely to be radicals than conservatives. Finally, she deserves attention because of her lively speaking style. There is a reason that she stood out as a speaker and sold many books in that era, so well provided with great speakers and writers.

SEE ALSO Civil Rights; Feminism; Fundamentalism; Fundamentalism, Christian; Slavery; Social Movements; Suffrage Movement, Womens; U.S. Civil War

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Painter, Nell Irvin. 1996. Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol. New York: W. W. Norton.

Truth, Sojourner. 1998. Narrative of Sojourner Truth. New York: Penguin Classics.

Stewart R. King

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"Truth, Sojourner." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Truth, Sojourner

TRUTH, SOJOURNER

Sojourner Truth was a nineteenth-century African American evangelist who embraced abolitionism and women's rights. A charismatic speaker, she became one of the best-known abolitionists of her day.

Born a slave around 1797 in Ulster County, New York, Isabella Baumfree, as she was originally named, lived with several masters. She bore at least five children to a fellow slave named Thomas and took the name of her last master, Isaac Van Wagener, in 1827. She was freed in 1828 when a New York law abolished slavery within the state, and with the help of Quaker friends, she recovered a young son who had been illegally sold into slavery in the South.

In 1829 she moved to New York City and worked as a domestic servant. Since childhood she had experienced visions and heard voices, which she attributed to God. Her mystic bent led her to become associated with Elijah Person, a New York religious missionary. She worked and preached with Person in the streets of the city, and in 1843 she had a religious experience in which she believed that God commanded her to travel beyond New York to spread the Christian gospel. She took the name Sojourner Truth and traveled throughout the eastern states as an evangelist.

Truth soon became acquainted with the abolitionist movement and its leaders. She adopted their message, speaking out against slavery. Her speaking tours expanded as abolitionists realized her effectiveness as a lecturer. In 1850 she toured the Midwest and drew large, enthusiastic crowds. Because she was illiterate, she dictated her life story, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and sold the book at her lectures as a means of supporting herself.

In the early 1850s, she met leaders of the emerging women's rights movement, most notably Lucretia Mott. Truth recognized the connection between the inferior legal status of African Americans and women in general. Soon she was speaking before women's rights groups, advocating the right to vote. Her most famous speech was entitled Ain't I a Woman?

During the 1850s, Truth settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, but went to Washington, D.C., in 1864 to meet with President abraham

lincoln. She remained in Washington to help the war effort, collecting supplies for black volunteer regiments serving in the Union army and helping escaped slaves find jobs and homes.

After the war she joined the National Freed-men's Relief Association, working with former slaves to prepare them for a different type of life. Truth believed that former slaves should be given free land in the West, but her "Negro State" proposal failed to interest Congress. Nevertheless, during the 1870s she encouraged African Americans to resettle in Kansas and Missouri.

"There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about colored women; if colored men get their rights and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as hard as it was before."
—Sojourner Truth

Truth remained on the public speaking circuit until 1875, when she retired to Battle Creek. She died there on November 26, 1883.

further readings

Davis, Peggy Cooper. 1996. "'So Tall Within'—The Legacy of Sojourner Truth." Cardozo Law Review 18 (November).

Painter, Nell Irvin, ed. 1998. Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time, with a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her Book of Life. New York: Penguin Books.

Whalin, W. Terry. 1997. Sojourner Truth: American Abolitionist. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour & Co.

cross-references

Abolition; "Ain't I a Woman?" (Appendix, Primary Document).

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Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (ca. 1797-1883) was a black American freedom fighter and orator. She believed herself chosen by God to preach His word and to help with the abolitionist effort to free her people.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, N.Y., the daughter of an African named Baumfree (after his Dutch owner) and a woman called Elizabeth. About the age of 9 she was auctioned off to an Englishman named John Nealy. The Nealys understood very little of her Dutch jargon and, as a result, she was often brutally punished for no real reason.

Eventually Nealy sold her to a fisherman who owned a tavern in Kingston, N.Y. Here she acquired the idiomatic expressions which came to mark her speech. John J. Dumont, a nearby plantation owner, purchased her next. During her tenure with his family she married and had five children. In 1827, after New York had passed an emancipation act freeing its slaves, she prepared to take her family away. But Dumont began to show reluctance to this, so she ran away with only her youngest child.

She finally wound up in New York City. She worked at a menial job and through some friends came under the sway of a religious fanatic named Mathias. Eventually disillusioned by her life in New York and by Mathias, in 1843 she left on what she termed a pilgrimage to spread the truth of God's word. She assumed the name Sojourner Truth, which she believed God had given her as a symbolic representation of her mission in life. Soon her reputation as an orator spread, and large crowds greeted her wherever she spoke.

A controversial figure for most of the rest of her life, Truth engaged the courts in two rather unusual cases, winning them both and establishing precedents. Thus, she became the first black to win a slander suit against prominent whites, and the first black woman to test the legality of segregation of Washington, D.C., streetcars.

During the Civil War, Truth bought gifts for the soldiers with money raised from her lectures and helped fugitive slaves find work and housing. After the war she continued her tirade for the Lord and against racial injustice, even when old age and ill health restricted her activities to the confines of a Battle Creek, Mich., sanatorium. She died there on Nov. 26, 1883.

Further Reading

Sojourner Truth's speech at the Women's Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851, is in The Faith of Our Fathers, edited by Irving Mark and Eugene L. Schwaab. Works on Sojourner Truth include Olive Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1878; repr. 1968); Arthur Huff Fauset, Sojourner Truth: God's Faithful Pilgrim (1938), especially good for insights into the religious implications of her life; Hertha E. Pauli, Her Name Was Sojourner Truth (1962); and Jacqueline Bernard, Journey toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth (1967). Lerone Bennett, Jr., Pioneers in Protest (1968), devotes a chapter to her. A brief biography is in Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Historical Negro Biographies (1968). □

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Truth, Sojourner

Sojourner Truth, c.1797–1883, American abolitionist, a freed slave, originally called Isabella, b. Ulster co., N.Y. Convinced that she heard heavenly voices, she left (1843) domestic employment in New York City, adopted the name Sojourner Truth, and traveled throughout the North preaching emancipation and women's rights. A remarkable personality, she spoke with much effectiveness even though she remained illiterate.

See O. Gilbert, Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1878, repr. 1968); biographies by A. H. Fauset (1938, repr. 1971), H. E. Pauli (1962), E. B. Claflin (1987), C. Mabee and S. Mabee Newhouse (1993), and N. Painter (1996).

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Truth, Sojourner

Truth, Sojourner (1797–1883) US abolitionist. Born a slave in New York and unable to read or write, she was freed by the New York Emancipation Act (1827). Inspired by a religious calling, Truth became a leading propagandist for abolition of slavery and votes for women. The ‘micro-rover’ on NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission was named after her.

http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/trut-soj.htm

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Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth: see Truth, Sojourner.

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