Our nation has come about through a series of changes, sort of like an evolution to the powerful nation we have become, and even greater nation we perhaps will be one day. It takes the acknowledgement and courage of people to bring about a change in society from what was known to what will be. Such a humanitarian hero was Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth was born a slave named Isabella Baumfree sometime in 1797 in Ulster county, New York. The exact date of her birth is to this day unknown, but it is believed to have been sometime during the fall. She developed her characteristics of courage and dependability from her mother, Mau Mau Bett, at an early age. Isabella was first owned by a Dutch named Charles, who was happened to be a decent slave owner. At his death, she was separated from her mother and auctioned to another set of plantation owners, the Neelys. Isabella was highly mistreated here as they took their dislike of the Dutch community out on Isabella, who spoke hardly a word of English. She was bought and sold three times within the next twenty-four months, the final purchaser being a man named John Dumont for the incredibly low bargaining price of three hundred dollars.
Dumont needed more slaves for his New York plantation. He always bragged that Isabella was the hardest working slave on the plantation. Seeing this, he forced her to wed a fellow slave known as Tom. Isabella gave birth to five children within the next five years. Two years before the emancipation act of 1828, in which all slaves within New York were freed, Dumont promised Isabella that if she were to extra hard for the next year, he would set her free a year early. She did just that; she was the even harder working already hardest working slave on the plantation. Whenever the time came, though, Dumont broke his promise. Isabella, realizing she had been tricked, escaped with her infant child in her arms in October of 1827 to the refuge of a Quaker family.
Isabella did not wish to have any remembrances of her previous owner, so she adopted the name of her Quaker friends, Van Wagenen. With the help of the Quakers, she won a lawsuit to reclaim one of her sons, Peter, not long after receiving her freedom. She then again changed her name when she left her refuge on June 1, 1843, to travel the nation preaching about the evils of slavery. Isabella believed it was her appointed duty by the God she had so faithfully believed all those years of captivity to change to ways of the world. She renamed herself Sojourner Truth because she traveled the world speaking the truth about the immoralities of slavery.
Truth spent the first few months at the beginning of her awakening helping those in need, but it wasn’t until after she spoke at an outdoor revival meeting that she felt she had truly found her calling. “The simplicity of her language and the sincerity of her message combined with the courage of her convictions, made Sojourner Truth a sought-after speaker (Arnold, int).”
Though her popularity and recognition were great, she still found some troubles in her fight for the abolition of slaves. Truth was once told that a building would be burned if she dared speak. She simply replied that she would speak to the ashes. Another instance occurred when an angry mob attacked Sojourner Truth, which resulted in Truth’s dependance upon a cane for the rest of her life. She was also told by a conductor of a streetcar while in New York that she was not allowed to ride and would have to step off the car. When she refused, she was physically removed from the streetcar. The conductor was immediately fired and charged with assault and battery, which was tried by Justice Thompson, and won by . . . Sojourner Truth!
Truth was introduced to the issue of Women’s Rights at a convention in Northhampton, Massachusetts in October of 1850. She felt that it was her duty to bring the issue of women’s rights into her oh so famous speeches. It was from this that my favorite speech, “Ain’t I a woman,” emerged. Because of her empowering height, many questioned her gender, believing she was a cross dressing man. Whenever doubters surfaced at her speeches, she is said to have opened her blouse and bare her breast to prove she was indeed a woman.
During the civil war, Sojourner Truth provided clothing and counseling to former slaves who were serving in the union army. She spent the latter years of her life fighting for a project for former slaves of the United States. She asked congress to give African Americans land in the west to start over again and forget about slavery. She died on November 26, 1883, in Battle Creek Michigan, before she could accomplish this goal. By the time of her death, she still had not learned to read or write, but had preached in over twenty-one states in the thirty-four years of her changed life.
In the 1850’s, she dictated a book, which was written by William Lloyd Garrison. Harriet Beacher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, also wrote about an encounter she had with Ms. Truth and called it: Sojourner Truth, the Libyan Sibyl. Sojourner Truth led a fulfilling life, which brought her to be the icon she has become. In 1990, a robot due to explore the surface of mars was named after the African American hero. Just as she, the mechanical robot was traveling and in search of truth.
Many honors have been received by this remarkable woman who has grown to become my idle. She did as she believed to be right, and did not care how the others felt about her message. She did everything in her power to bring about change in a nation where biases and belittling had become the norm. She never lived to see equality between genders or the total desegregation between races; the elimination of chauvinism and racism, but I hope I do.