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Black History Month: Sojourner's Truth


A painting of Sojourner Truth.

February is Black History Month. But many people don’t take time to appreciate those who moved society to where it is now, and those who continue to seek justice and progression of equality. This month, let’s explore the past and present heroes who aided in the advancement of societal views. Learning about the past builds respect you may carry through the rest of your life.


Who comes to mind when asked about slavery? Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison? Does Sojourner Truth sound familiar? Probably not; she was a woman. Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was an African-American woman who advocated for women's suffrage and the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, for centuries, women have been underrepresented for their contributions to the structure of America today. In this article, we will commemorate the tremendous acts of Sojourner Truth. However, in order to truly understand how remarkable her accomplishments are, we must recall her tragic upbringing.


Horrific Beginnings

Originally named Isabella Baumfree, she was born into slavery (“Sojourner Truth Biography”). She and her family were owned by and worked under the same man for 9 years. In 1806, they were separated, and Baumfree was bought along with a flock of sheep for $100 by a harsh and violent man. Luckily, after four slave-owners, four children, and nearly 30 years as a slave, Baumfree escaped with her infant child, Sophia, into freedom. Little did she know, she would very soon change history forever.


Finding Her Voice while Fighting for Justice

Following her joyous departure, Baumfree discovered that her son had been illegally sold to a slave-owner in Alabama. In the first case won by a black woman over a white man in the United States, she redeemed Peter’s place in the North. Then, in 1829, Baumfree converted to Christianity and worked as a housekeeper for Elijah Pierson. She then moved to the home of the future cult leader, Robert Matthews. Unfortunately, Pierson died soon after Baumfree’s move. Matthews, who had worked in the evangelist church with Pierson, was accused of murdering him to take hold of his fortune. The Folgers, a family in the Matthews’ following, dragged Baumfree into the scandal. Though Matthews was acquitted and moved southward, Baumfree would not settle with the injustice. So in 1835, she filed a lawsuit against the Folgers, and won.


A Face of Many Movements

On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, saying, "Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing people their sins and being a sign to them, and Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the people."

The following year, Truth joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, a group formed by abolitionists to combat discrimination against women and Pacifism. They quickly drew the attention of the public, propelling the movement to new heights. At the first ever National Women's Rights Convention, Truth improvised a monumental speech called “Ain’t I a Woman,” kicking off a new era of global advocacy. Though Truth passed before the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote, without her voice, America could not have reached such an outcome.

Sojourner Truth monument in Battle Creek, MI.

Who Tells Her Story Now?

Sojourner Truth is not known by many, despite her entire-life dedication to demanding equality. Believe it or not, she is not the only woman whose story was forgotten by society. What a shock! In fact, according to a study done by the National Women's History Museum in 2017, grades K-12 covered 737 historical figures, consisting of 559 men and only 178 women, two of which were fictional (White, 2019). The reality is, women are not credited for their contributions to American history. Men have taken responsibility for building the United States up to where it is today by maintaining positions of power in the American government since the country’s establishment. With more women securing prominent positions in the US, such as Vice President Kamala Harris, their stories can no longer be ‘forgotten.’ Sojourner Truth set the stage for feminism, but never achieved her ultimate goal of a world without prejudice. We, as humans in a time of endless possibilities, must carry out her mission.


Resources

“Sojourner Truth Biography.” biography.com, A&E Television Networks, 6 Jan. 2021. Web.

White, April. "WRITTEN OUT OF HISTORY: A New Study Reveals Just How Few Women Are

Required Reading in America's Schools." Smithsonian, vol. 49, no. 10, Mar. 2019, p. 14. Gale General OneFile, link.gale.com/apps/doc/A577907603/ITOF?u=iowaec&sid=ITOF&xid=9b227d82. Accessed 20 Feb. 2021.

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