Today I want to talk to you about a very famous African-American woman. You probably don’t know her by her real name, Isabella Baumfree. You might know her as Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth was born as Isabella Baumfree (most people called her Belle) in 1797 in Swartekill, New York. Her parents were slaves owned by Colonel Hardenbergh and they mostly spoke Dutch. She was one of 10 or 12 children born to her parents James and Elizabeth. When Colonel Hardenbergh died in 1806, Belle was sold to John Neely with a flock of sheep for $100. John Neely was a harsh master. He beat Belle almost daily. Then he sold her to a tavern keeper in 1808 and he sold her in 1810 to John Dumont.
John Dumont was another cruel slave owner. In 1815, Belle fell in love with Robert, a slave from a nearby plantation. His owner did not want him to leave the plantation. When they found him sneaking over to see Belle, his owner beat him. He was beaten so badly that he died just a few days later. She carried that grief for the rest of her life.
Belle later married an older slave Thomas. She had five children. One died in childbirth and one was the child of her master John Dumont. In 1826, Belle ran away with her infant daughter Sofia. A kind family helped her and bought off her “contract” with Mr. Dumont so she could be free. She soon found out that her son had been sold to a master in Alabama who was even crueler than the Dumonts. She went to court to get him back and won. This was the first time a woman won this kind of case against white men.
After getting her freedom, Belle became very involved with the Christian faith. She worked with several ministers and their ministries. After a very moving experience in 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She felt that God had called her to travel and speak her truth. Her truth was that women and slaves should be treated equally. She spent the rest of her life traveling and speaking to almost anyone who would listen.
Her most famous speech was title Ain’t I a woman? It demanded equal human rights for women and for blacks. Sojourner was known to react directly to a crowd. When one group was being disruptive, she called them out and asked them why they were being so rude. For a time, she worked in Washington DC and that gave her a chance to meet President Abraham Lincoln. She worked to recruit freed black men to fight for the Union Army in the Civil War. When the war was over, she worked on getting land grants for the freed slaves. For this project, she got the opportunity to work directly with President Ulysses S. Grant.
Sojourner later moved to Battle Creek, Michigan where she continued speaking and fighting for women and black rights. She died on November 26, 1883, in her home of natural causes. Frederick Douglass offered a eulogy for her in Washington DC.
Sojourner was loved by many. Her spunky attitude when speaking made people excited to hear her and infuriated those who opposed her. Throughout her life, she received many threats, but she never backed down.
After her death, Sojourner Truth was remembered as an important figure in American history. She is in the Women’s Hall of Fame. Many libraries and schools are named after her. She is the first Black woman to have her statue in the Memorial Hall in the Capitol of the United States.
She was a strong abolitionist and leader in the women’s rights movement. Perhaps one of the most special tributes in many cities is the Sojourner Truth homes that provide shelter and services for women who are homeless or leaving domestic abuse situations.
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