Born into slavery in Ulster County, New York, as Isabella Baumfree, Truth bore thirteen children and saw all who survived infancy sold away from her. At age 30, she ran away and settled in New York City. In 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began a public speaking career that would span four decades. She began working in the abolitionist movement and would repeatedly remind activists that emancipation of blacks would mean little for black women without the reform of women’s statuses in society: black women would simply exchange white masters for black ones.
She is best known for her “Ain’t I a woman?” speech to a women’s rights convention in Ohio in 1851. Some delegates objected to a black woman speaking, but organizer allowed her to address the convention. Her stirring address moved the audience to tears and applause.
Unlike Frederick Douglass, Truth did not advocate violence, nor did she believe that the push for women’s rights threatened the progress of blacks. She became a greater advocate for women’s rights after the Civil War, though she continued to call attention to the detrimental effects of segregation. After moving to Washington D.C. she would repeatedly board street cars and sit in the whites only section until the conductor forced her from the car. Over a thousand people attended her funeral where suffragist Lucy Stone described her as “a ‘terrible force, moving friend and foe alike.’ ”
1: Lunardini, Christine. “1851: Sojourner Truth Addresses a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio” in What Every American Should Know About Women’s History. Pp. 74-76. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1997.
Photo from Sojourner Truth.org