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Journey of Truth

Have you ever met somebody with a powerful presence? Somebody whose power you can sense, and whom you immediately know you want on your side?

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth was that kind of person: a powerful presence. Truth was an African American woman who wasn't intimidated by anyone. Because of her powerful speaking ability, independent spirit and six-foot frame, it was impossible to not be moved by her. When she spoke, people listened -- whether they wanted to hear or not. Truth used her powerful presence in a positive way, fighting injustices everywhere.

Truth spoke out against slavery when it was very dangerous to do so. She spoke out for women's rights at a time when women were told to stay in the kitchen and take care of the house, kids and men. She was a true leader of her time, and she contributed a lot to the way our country is today.

Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, in upstate New York, in 1797. She was born into slavery under the name Isabella Baumfree. After being a slave for thirty years, Truth was freed by a New York law that declared free all slaves twenty-eight years of age and older. So at the age of thirty, Truth found herself free in a society that still treated her like she was a slave. After meeting her mother for the first time at the age of thirty-one, she came to believe in the importance of God. Even more, she set out to use her strong religious belief, her extraordinary will, and her talent for leadership to change the course of history.


Well, I had an interesting Thanksgiving.

She changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth. Sojourner means one who travels from place to place. Truth picked her name because she planned to travel, speaking the truth everywhere she went.

Statue of Sojourner Truth
Truth became a traveling preacher, spreading the word of God and teaching people how to overcome oppression. She spoke out against slavery, and in favor of the right to vote for both white and black women. She began working with organizations designed to help women win more rights. She gained a reputation as a powerful speaker in both the African American community and the white community. Wherever she spoke, there was a crowd waiting to listen. She motivated people to stand up and fight for what they believed in.

When Sojourner Truth attended the Northampton Association meeting in Massachusetts, her life was changed. The Association included leading abolitionist and women's rights activists. Among these people, Sojourner talked about the social injustices of her time. As a result of these discussions, this group became one of the first to make the link between the oppression of blacks and the oppression of women -- a connection that became crucial to the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Nick with some beautiful African art in the background
In her lifetime, Sojourner Truth spoke before two presidents, as well as the U.S. Congress. Yet her biggest accomplishment was linking the oppression of blacks to the oppression of women. In one of Truth's most famous speeches, she connected those two identities by asking, "Ain't I a woman?" Here's a little taste of Truth's eloquence: "I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me." Coming from the double trials of being a slave and a woman, Truth shows her strength.

Sojourner Truth in New York after she was freed from slavery

Because she was a slave, Sojourner Truth was forced to see all of her thirteen children sold into slavery. In a line from her speech, she expresses her grief: "When I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me!" It must have been hard enough to be a slave at all, but knowing that your children, too, would be enslaved was surely agony. Truth's eloquent words keep us from forgetting this pain.

Nick getting excited about the amazing Truth
I can't imagine what it was like to be Sojourner Truth, but I do know that I can learn from Truth's strength. After seeing thirteen children sold as slaves, and after herself being enslaved for thirty years, she fought against all odds for what she believed. I will carry her strength with me whenever I fight my battles in the future.

Sojourner Truth knitting
Women, African Americans, Native Americans, and all people who have been oppressed still have to fight every day. So when you see injustice, do something about it. Remember Sojourner Truth's strength, and take it with you.

Nick Tilsen
(Oglala Lakota)

Please email me at: nick@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephanie - Taking freedom back
Daphne -- A couple of aliens and a not-so-grand wizard
Teddy -Reading, writing, and making freedom real
Stephanie - African American Home on the Range
Rebecca-Americans torturing Americans
Kevin - Welcome to New York. Now get in line for delousing