History Politics

Sojourner Truth

Born Isabella Baumfree in upstate New York in the 1790s (presumably around 1797) she came into this world enslaved. She was raised to cherish the importance of family and strong faith in God. Her parents, James and Elizabeth “Betsy” Baumfree, had 10 to 12 children of which Truth was the youngest. Like most enslaved people, her family did not remain intact. At a young age, nearly all of James and Betsy’s children except Isabella and her brother Peter were sold. Her grieving parents shared stories of their sisters and brothers to keep their memories alive, but the grief was overwhelming. During difficult times her mother urged them to seek God, the one “who hears and sees you.” Eventually, Isabella herself would be sold four times. She married an enslaved man named Thomas and gave birth to five children. Knowing that the institution of slavery committed a great crime against her people, Isabella escaped when she was around 30 years old, taking her daughter Sophie. A year later, she filed suit to free her son Peter who had been sold in Alabama.

Remarkably, she won the case and Peter was returned to her. In her mid-forties, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth and became a champion for abolition and women’s rights. Even though she had no formal education, she memorized the Bible and went on a speaking tour that put her in contact with abolitionists including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Laura S. Haviland. Almost everyone who interacted with her commented on her deep voice and nearly six-foot stature. Born into slavery, self-liberated, and determined to help her people, Truth turned to petitions once again in the 1870s like she had done decades earlier in guaranteeing her son Peter’s freedom. This time to help formerly enslaved people acquire land in the West. She wrote about this campaign in the New York Tribune claiming that she devoted herself “to the case of getting land for these people, where they can work and earn their own living.” Her advocacy continued until her death in 1883.

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