Sojouner Truth - Mini Bio

Cicely Tyson reads Sojourner Truth's 

"Ain't I a Woman"

The Great Sojourner Truth

Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You

Sojourner Truth   1797-1883

Sojourner Truth, born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, was a pilgrim of freedom and a fervent woman's rights activist.  She thundered against slavery from countless platforms.  For nearly 40 years, she traveled across the country 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."  Of how she came to be called Sojourner Truth she said, "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."

Until the New York State Emancipation Act freed her in 1828, Sojourner was sold from master to master. About 1810, she was sold to John J. Durmont, who forced her to marry an older slave named Thomas, by whom she bore five children.  Durmont, with little regard for human personage, heartlessly sold several of her children.  In 1827, Sojourner escaped from Durmont and took refuge with a Quaker family whose name she took, becoming Isabella Van Wagener.  With their assistance, she won a lawsuit to have one son, Peter returned to her.

As a speaker, Sojourner was not that eloquent, but she was tremendously effective.  Her strong towering stature, over 6 feet, commanding respect.  Her deep, bass voice commanded attention.  Her acid intelligence and stern countenance created a sense of drama that hushed the jeers of even the worse hecklers.  She delivered one of her most widely quoted speeches on equality between the sexes at a sufferage meeting in Akron, Ohio in 1852.  To demolish the male argument about the helplessness of women, and to discredit her detractors' claim that she was actually a man disguised as a woman she ripped open her blouse baring one breast and a muscular arm as evidence that she and other woman worked just as hard as men, but did not enjoy the same privileges.  She asked, "Aint I a woman?" This woman who could neither read not write became famous as an itinerant preacher.  Whenever she spoke, crowds flocked to hear her.  She was a self-styled prophetess and orator, and it is thought that she produced some mystical effect on her audiences, whether at a religious camp or an anti-slavery rally.

Sojourner was indeed a legend in her time.  Her work was not confined 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 to 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 the battlefield of 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.  Sojourner rose and asked, "Fredrick, is God dead?"

Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Women.

​This is only a summary of the life of the Great Sojourner Truth.