Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth

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  • hope
  • justice
  • liberty

Abolitionist and Suffragist

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Quote: [D]evoted to the welfare of her race, she has been for the last forty years an object of respect and admiration to social reformers everywhere. [143]
Quote credit: Frederick Douglass, abolitionist and journalist, 1883
Image credit: Library of Congress

Inspired by Faith

Synopsis copy: Sojourner Truth was a formerly enslaved evangelist and a vocal advocate for abolition, temperance, and civil and women’s rights. She felt a divine calling to travel and speak truth. [184]

Image credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library
A Life of Faith

Body copy: Sojourner Truth discovered resilience and strength through her faith as she fought for her own freedom, and for the rights of women and enslaved people.


Date: ca. 1797

Title: Born in Ulster County, New York

Description: Born Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth was enslaved by the ethnically Dutch Hardenburgh family and grew up speaking the language. At age nine, she was sold to an English-speaking family and was abused for not understanding orders. Eventually learning English, she spoke with an Afro-Dutch accent.

Image caption: The Hardenburgh family’s house, where Isabella was raised, ca. 1909

Image credit: State University of New York at New Paltz, Sojourner Truth Library


Date: 1826

Title: Emancipates Herself

Description: Isabella’s mother introduced her to faith at a young age. Her faith helped her to endure cruel enslavers. With the support of abolitionist friends, Isabella freed herself and her daughter in 1826. However, her five-year-old son, Peter, had already been illegally sold into slavery.

Image caption: “An Address Delivered on the Celebration of the Abolition of Slavery,” July 5, 1827

Image credit: HathiTrust Digital Library


Date: 1828

Title: Son Returned through Legal Victory

Description: New York State’s gradual abolition law prohibited the sale of some enslaved people. With the legal assistance of Quakers, Isabella sued a slave trader for the illegal interstate sale of her son. She won his return; this was the first victorious case in which a Black woman took a white man to court in the U.S.

Image caption: Document requiring the man who sold Isabella’s son to appear before the Court, 1828

Image credit: Recognizance for Solomon Gedney, 1828, Ulster County Clerk of Courts


Date: 1843

Title: Changes Her Name

Description: At the time of her emancipation, Isabella had a spiritual awakening and was “overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence.” Sensing God’s calling to preach, she changed her name. “[T]he Lord gave me Sojourner, because I was to travel up and down the land, showing people their sins …”

Image caption: Depiction of Sojourner Truth preaching to a crowd, ca. 1860

Image credit: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images


Date: May 28, 1851

Title: Delivers “Ain’t I a Woman?” Speech

Description: Truth is thought to have attended the first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848. Three years later she delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a similar convention, in Akron, Ohio. Both of these gatherings were held in churches.

Image caption: Depiction of a women’s rights convention

Image credit: Library of Congress


Date: ca. 1863

Title: Civil War Work

Description: During the Civil War, Truth recruited young Black men to join the Union Army and helped supply provisions. Her grandson James Caldwell joined the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first all-Black regiment in the state. Caldwell was captured in 1863 and interned for the war’s duration.

Image caption: Storming Fort Wagner print depicting the 54th Massachusetts Infantry in 1863. This regiment was made famous by the 1989 film Glory.

Image credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division


Date: Nov. 26, 1883

Title: Dies in Battle Creek, Michigan

Description: Sojourner Truth’s tombstone reads “Is God dead?” She once asked her friend and fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass this question to remind him to have faith. Her last words were, “Be a follower of the Lord Jesus.”

Image caption: Sojourner Truth’s tombstone

Image credit: Brenda Leyndyke

“Ain’t I a Woman?”

Body copy: “Ain’t I a Woman?” is Truth’s most famous speech, but the well-known version strays from her original words. Explore the oldest text, which doesn’t include the title for which the speech has become known.


Bubble copy: The abolitionist Marius Robinson heard Truth’s speech in person and transcribed it for his newspaper the Anti-Slavery Bugle. He wrote about its impact on the audience.
Highlighted text: It is impossible to transfer it to paper, or convey any adequate idea of the effect it produced upon the audience.

Bubble copy: The common version of the speech attributes a southern slave dialect to Truth, but she actually spoke in a New York Afro-Dutch dialect. Highlighted text: “May I say a few words?” Receiving an affirmative answer, she proceeded; “I want to say a few words about this matter. I am a woman’s rights.”

Bubble copy: There are additions to and inaccuracies in the common version of the speech, such as this reference to enduring a beating: “I could work as much as eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear de lash as well.”
Highlighted text: I have heard much about the sexes being equal; I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it.


Bubble copy: Compare what is transcribed here to the dialect used in the common version: “If my cup won’t hold but a pint and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have a little half-measure full?”

Highlighted text:If woman have a pint and man a quart—why can’t she have her little pint full?


Bubble copy: Although Truth was bilingual, she was illiterate. Yet she knew the Bible well and referenced it throughout her speech.

Highlighted text: I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.


Image credit: Anti-Slavery Bugle, June 21, 1851, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress
Faith in Action

Body copy: Sojourner Truth was one of the first Americans to use photography, a new technology at the time, to build a personal brand. She sold small portraits of herself to spread her message and fund her speaking tours.

Image caption: Carte de visite with the caption “I sell the shadow to support the substance. Sojourner Truth.” [95]

Image credit: Library of Congress


Body copy: Truth was a captivating public speaker, and she became a prominent figure on the lecture circuit. She traveled around the country advocating abolition and women’s rights.

Image caption: Sojourner Truth lecture poster, ca. 1835

Image credit: Bentley Image Bank, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan


Body copy: After the Civil War, Truth helped formerly enslaved people rebuild their lives. Recognizing the importance of her work, President Abraham Lincoln honored her at the White House on October 29, 1864.

Image caption: Depiction of Lincoln showing Sojourner Truth a Bible given to him by people of color from Baltimore

Image credit: Library of Congress


Body copy: Sojourner Truth’s work continues to be remembered and is still meaningful. She is set to be featured on the back of a new ten-dollar bill alongside other suffragists, and churches across the country celebrate her legacy.

Image caption: A statue of women’s rights pioneers featuring Sojourner Truth, unveiled on Women’s Equality Day 2020 in New York City’s Central Park

Image credit: Sintex

Legacy of Liberty

Question/alignment statement: Do you think that Sojourner Truth merits commemoration on U.S. currency?

Image credit: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Scripture: You will be called by a new name, A name given by the Lord himself. You will be like a beautiful crown for the Lord. [116]

Scripture credit: Isaiah 62:2b,3

Image credit: Library of Congress

Related changemakers: Frederick Douglass, Grimke and Weld, Lincoln

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