Sojourner Truth


Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree in 1797) was a pilgrim of freedom and a passionate women’s rights activist. Fervently opposed to slavery, she thundered her views from numerous platforms. She travelled across the country for nearly 40 years, lecturing on the two major issues of the time: abolition and the rights of the “lesser sex.” She was born in slavery to James and Betsy Baumfree near Kingston, New York. Sojourner Truth was the first Negro woman orator to lecture against slavery. She wore a satin banner across her chest bearing the words, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Her explanation of how she came to be called Sojourner Truth was: “I asked the Lord to give me a new name and He gave me Sojourner because I was to travel up and down the land showing the people sins and being a sign unto them. Afterwards, I told the Lord I wanted another name cause everybody else had two names; and He gave me Truth because I was to declare the truth unto the People.”

The New York State Emancipation Act freed her in 1828, but prior to that was sold from master to master. She was sold to John J Dumont about 1810. He forced her to marry an older slave named Thomas, by whom she bore five children. Dumont, with little regard for human dignity, cruelly sold several of her children. In 1827, Sojourner escaped from Dumont and took refuge with a Quaker family whom name she adopted. She became Isabella Van Wagener and with their assistance, she won a lawsuit to have one of her sons, Peter, returned to her.

Sojourner was a legend of her time. Her work for was limited to anti-slavery and women’s rights alone, but embraced all human rights that were being encroached upon or denied. During the Civil War, she raised money for soldiers’ gifts by lecturing and singing (many of her songs were self-composed); she also served as a nurse and helped resettle many slaves who fled the South. The highlight of her life was when she was received by President Lincoln at the White House. She was well into her seventies before she retired, due to poor health, from her fight against injustice. Her epitaph is taken from a well-known retort she once made to Frederick Douglass, after his deliverance of a rather gloomy speech regarding the plight of Black Americans. Soujourner rose and asked, “Frederick, is God dead?”