Contributed by Gilli Richman
Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 with the birth name of Isabella Bomfree. She was a slave in Ulster County, New York where she was bought and sold by slave owners four different times. Growing up, she experienced terrible living conditions, harsh labor, and violent beatings. In 1827, Truth escaped to the Van Wagner family, who were abolitionists, where they bought her freedom for twenty dollars. A year later in 1828, the year that New York’s Anti-Slavery Law was put into effect, Truth moved to New York City. She found work with a local minister where she then became a strong-willed speaker who proclaimed that the Spirit had called on her to preach the truth. Therefore, she renamed herself as Sojourner Truth.
Sojourner Truth met many abolitionists while she preached which led to her giving speeches on the horrors of slavery. Truth dictated her autobiography, titled “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth”, as she had never learned to read or write. She received her livelihood from sales of her book which received significant traction causing Truth to become more widely known. She encountered many women’s rights activists including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She quickly felt drawn to women’s rights issues and started speaking about this topic when giving her lectures. In Akron, Ohio during the Women’s Rights Convention, Truth gave her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which challenged society’s views about both women and race. Truth faced struggles because some women’s rights groups did not specifically want to be linked to anti-slavery movements. However, Truth continued to advocate for women’s rights and all women’s suffrage.
After settling in Michigan in the 1850s, Truth continued to help slaves escape towards freedom and played a major role in providing supplies and support throughout the Civil War. After the war, Truth met President Abraham Lincoln in 1864 when she was invited to the White House. She assisted with the Freedmen’s Bureau, where she aided slaves’ freedom and assisted in helping them rebuild their lives by finding them jobs and homes. Truth spent decades using her voice, strength, and beliefs to stand up for equality, justice, and civil rights for all.