A Genuine American Hero: A Brief History of Sojourner Truth.
There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and 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 bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again. — Equal Rights Convention, New York, 1867
Sojourner Truth (1791-1883) was an outspoken woman who campaigned for abolition and the rights of African-Americans, as well as the women’s rights movement of the 19th century. Born into slavery in New York State and given the name Isabella Hoffman. Hoffman would endure beatings and rape from her master until she became emancipated in 1827. Married twice as well as bearing 5 children, Hoffman first earned recognition for going to court and winning back her 5-year-old son after he was sold illegally to a slave owner in Alabama. This was the first case of a black woman taking a white man to court and winning.
After becoming a devout christian in 1829, she moved to New York City and went to work for Elijah Person, an evangelist in a Methodist commune. It was there that she met Prophet Mathias, who influenced her beliefs a great deal. While living at the commune, Elijah Person was murdered and both she and Mathias fell under suspicion. Hoffman sued for libel and in another landmark move won her case.
In 1843 she took the name Sojourner Truth which means traveling preacher, and set out on her journey to spread the word of god as well as speaking out against abolition and for women’s suffrage. It was in 1851 while speaking at a women’s rights convention in Akron Ohio that she gave her most famous speech Ain’t I a Woman? Truth would prove herself to be as feisty as she was religious; when someone questioned her gender during a speech in 1958, she disproved him by opening her blouse and showing her breasts!
After her speech in 1851 Truth would spend the next 23 years speaking out for abolition, women’s rights, prison reform, and temperance. What’s amazing is she did this without being able to read or write! She worked during the Civil War to recruit black men to fight for the Union. She fought for desegregation in Washington DC by purposefully riding the trolleys that were for whites only. She worked for the National Freedman’s Relief Association after the war, and held meetings with Presidents Lincoln and Grant. She worked with Frederick Douglass, as well as Harriett Beecher Stowe, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony.
Truth moved to Battle Creek Michigan in 1868 and would retire there in 1875 due to her deteriorating health. Although struggling with several health issues, she remained incredibly alert until her death in 1883.
When the topic of Abolition and Women’s suffrage in the 19th century comes around, Sojourner Truth is one of the first people recognized. She overcame slavery, racism, sexual discrimination, and illiteracy to become an icon in civil rights and suffrage.
For African-Americans and women across the country today, this Truth did indeed help set you free.