Sojourner Truth Biography
Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery in Ulster County, New York, USA, in 1797. However, in 1826, she escaped with her infant daughter to freedom.
In 1828, she went to court to recover her son and became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Truth was born Isabella (Belle) Baumfree as one of the 10 or 12 children of James and Elizabeth Baumfree. On June 1, 1843, she gave herself the name Sojourner Truth after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”.
Colonel Hardenbergh bought her parents from slave traders and kept their family at his estate in Swartekill, 95 miles north of New York City. When the colonel died, his son, Charles Hardenbergh, inherited the estate and continued to enslave people as a part of that estate’s property.
Charles Hardenbergh died in 1806 and nine-year-old Truth was sold at an auction with a flock of sheep for $100 to John Neely. Neely was cruel and he beat her daily, once even with a bundle of rods.
She was sold for $105 to the tavern keeper, Martinus Schryver, in 1808 and was owned for 18 months. In 1810, Schryver then sold Truth to John Dumont of West Park, New York. Dumont’s wife harassed her and made her life more difficult. Truth became pregnant as a result of a rape by John Dumont and in 1815, she gave birth to Diana.
John Dumont had promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the state liberation, “if she would do well and be faithful.” Dumont went contrary to his promise claiming a hand injury had made Truth less productive. She was enraged but continued working, spinning 100 pounds of wool, to satisfy her sense of obligation to him.
Around 1815, She fell in love with an enslaved man named Robert from a neighboring farm. Nevertheless, Robert’s owner, Charles Catton, forbade their relationship. One day Robert sneaked over to see Truth and was caught by Catton and his son.
They fiercely beat Robert until John Dumont finally interceded. Truth never saw Robert again after that day and the experience haunted her throughout her life. Robert died a few years later. Truth was forced to marry an older enslaved man named Thomas, who also worked at Dumont’s ranch. She bore five children: James, who died in childhood, Diana, Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia.
Her best-known speech was delivered unpreparedly, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became popular during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Sojourner Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army during the Civil War. When the war ended, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants of “forty acres and a mule” from the federal government for former slaves.
In 2014, the Smithsonian magazine included her in their list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time”. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Since it was founded by abolitionists, the organization supported women’s rights and religious tolerance as well as pacifism. They lived on 470 acres, which is the same as 1.9Kms, raising livestock, running a sawmill, a gristmill, and a silk factory. However, the group disbanded in 1846, unable to support itself. While there, Truth met William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles.
Sojourner Truth Quotes
» “If women want rights more than they got, why don’t they just take them, and not be talking about it.”
» “I’m not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star.”
» “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have plowed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
» “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they are asking to do it, the men better let them.”
» “I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail.”
» “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as many rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
» “Then I will speak upon the ashes.”
» “You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.”
» “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, these women together ought to be able to turn it right again.”
» “It is the mind that makes the body.”
» “If it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there.”
» “Where there is so much racket, there must be something out of kilter.”
» “Let others say what they will of the efficacy of prayer, I believe in it, and I shall pray. Thank God! Yes, I shall always pray.”
» “We have all been thrown down so low that nobody thought we’d ever get up again, but we have been long enough trodden now; we will come up again, and now I am here.”
» “Now, if you want me to get out of the world, you had better get the women votin’ soon. I shan’t go till I can do that.”
» “You may hiss as much as you please, but women will get their rights anyway.”
» “After turning it in her mind for some time, she came to the conclusion, that she had been taking part in a great drama, which was, in itself, but one great system of robbery and wrong. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘the rich rob the poor, and the poor rob one another.”
» “And what is that religion that sanctions, even by its silence, all that is embraced in the ‘Peculiar Institution’? If there can be anything more diametrically opposed to the religion of Jesus, than the working of this soul-killing system – which is as truly sanctioned by the religion of America as are her ministers and churches – we wish to be shown where it can be found.”
“Many slaveholders boast of the love of their slaves. How would it freeze the blood of some of them to know what kind of love rankles in the bosoms of slaves for them! Witness the attempt to poison Mrs. Calhoun, and hundreds of similar cases. Most ‘surprising ‘ to everybody, because committed by slaves supposed to be so grateful for their chains.”
» “absurdity of the claims so arrogantly set up by the masters, over beings designed by God to be as free as kings; and at the perfect stupidity of the slave, in admitting for one moment the validity of these claims.”
» “Children, who made your skin white? Was it not God? Who made mine black? Was it not the same God? Am I to blame, therefore, because my skin is black?… Does not God love colored children as well as white children? And did not the same Saviour die to save the one as well as the other?”
» “I tell you I can’t read a book, but I can read de people.”
“Look there above the center, where the flag is waving bright; We are going out of slavery, we are bound for freedom’s light; We mean to show Jeff Davis how the Africans can fight…”
» “If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women together (and she glanced her eye over the platform) ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ’em.”
» “Den dat little man in black dar, he says women can’t have as many rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! What did your Christ come from?” Rolling thunder couldn’t have stilled that crowd, as did those deep, wonderful tones, as she stood there with outstretched arms and eyes of fire. Raising her voice still louder, she repeated, “What did your Christ come from? From God and a woman!”
» “Oh Lord,’ inquired Isabella, ‘what is this slavery, that it can do such dreadful things? what evil can it not do?’ Well, may she ask, for surely the evils it can and does do, daily and hourly, can never be summed up, till we can see them as they are recorded by him who writes no errors, and reckons without mistake.”
In 1851, on a lecture tour through central and western New York State, Truth joined George Thompson, an abolitionist, and speaker. She attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in May the same year, where she gave her famous impromptu speech on the rights of women, popularly known as “Ain’t I a Woman.”
The speech demanded equal human rights for all women as well as for all blacks. Truth took to the stage with a demanding and composed presence. Audience members were perplexed by the way she carried herself and were hesitant to believe that she was even a woman.
Hannah Tracy and Frances Dana Barker Gage organized the convention, both of whom were present when Truth spoke. Various versions of Sojourner Truth’s words were recorded, with Rev. Marius Robinson, the newspaper owner, and editor who was in the audience, publishing the first version a month later in the Anti-Slavery Bugle.
In May 1863, Dana Barker Gage published another, very different, version. In it, Truth’s speech pattern had characteristics of Southern slaves, and the speech was highly different than the one Robinson had reported. Gage’s version of the speech became the historic standard version, and is known as “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Over the next 10 years, Sojourner Truth spoke before dozens, perhaps hundreds, of audiences. From 1851 to 1853, Truth worked with the Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle editor, Marius Robinson, and traveled around that state speaking.
She spoke at a suffragist “mob convention” in New York City’s Broadway Tabernacle in 1853 and then met Harriet Beecher Stowe in the same year. In 1856, she traveled to Battle Creek, Michigan, to speak to a group called the “Friends of Human Progress.” Someone interrupted a speech in 1858 and accused her of being a man. Consequently, Truth opened her blouse and revealed her breasts.
Besides “Ain’t I A Woman”, Sojourner Truth had other strong speeches that transformed lives even though she presented them to hostile crowds. These include Northampton Camp Meeting, Abolitionist Convention, Mob Convention, American Equal Rights Association, Eighth Anniversary of Negro Freedom and Second Annual Convention of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Click here to get the full “Ain’t I A Woman” speech.
Some of the interesting facts about Sojourner Truth included;
- She changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth in 1843.
- During the Civil War, she recruited black soldiers to fight for the Union.
- She once met with President Abraham Lincoln and told him the story of her life as a slave.
- The Mars rover built by NASA was named “Sojourner” after her.
- She once said, “truth is powerful and it prevails.”
- Her slave owner doesn’t keep his promise to free her so she escapes and takes her daughter with her. She later sues Demont and her son is given back to her because she was illegally sold to a new owner.
- Truth meets many abolitionists and they influenced her to become one also. Truth devotes her life to try and end slavery.
- Sojourner gives her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. She presents it at the First Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio.
- Sojourner Truth makes a program to help ex-slaves from poverty and helps get them jobs.
Sojourner Truth House
Sojourner Truth House is a day center for homeless and at-risk women and their children. It was founded in 1997, providing the basic necessities for daily survival, life skills training, resource referrals, and on-going support. The House has frequently been called an emotional emergency room because when women reach the end of life’s line in Gary, Indiana, one place they find help is here.
The center is sponsored by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ and receives additional staff support from the Congregation of St. Agnes. Sojourner Truth House is professionally administered by a support organization called Ancilla Systems, that serves as the fiscal agent and provides 501 tax-exempt status.
A demographic composite of the disenfranchised women served indicates that an estimated 65% of the homeless women seeking help at Sojourner Truth House and 35% of the walk-in women from the community who participate in support service suffer from mental illness, substance abuse and/or addiction.
All the women seeking assistance have extreme needs and have reached the very bottom of life. Ethnically and racially diverse, the women come from all faiths and educational backgrounds.
Approximately 92% of the women served represent minority populations. They have frequently been victims of domestic violence and bear the marks of physical and/or emotional abuse.
These high-risk factors coupled with homelessness result in unemployment and limited or no sources of income. Sojourner Truth House currently serves an average of 2,100 clients per month.
What We Do Locate in Gary, Lake County, Indiana. Sojourner Truth House is a day shelter that assists with the basic necessities of daily survival life skills training and resource referrals.
We serve walk-ins and homeless clients from two area homeless shelters; some are employable, heads of households, while many others suffer from mental illness and substance abuse Founded in 1997 by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, Sojourner Truth House assists economically disadvantaged women and their children who are homeless, and struggling to establish stable households for themselves and their families.
The staff includes a director with ten years of shelter experience, a registered nurse, two MSW social workers, and other support service personnel. Sojourner Truth House receives community support from grants, fundraisers and individual donations of food and clothing to sustain its operations.
The remainder of the operating budget is subsidized by The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, an international congregation of women religious within the Roman Catholic Church. Among underserved populations, especially those who are the neediest, we discover the sisters and staff providing care that reflects their values of community, dignity, simplicity, and respect.
Sojourner Truth Library
Built in 1969, the Sojourner Truth Library located at New Paltz State University of New York, needed to offer the expanded services and expectations of a university in the digital age. It underwent improvements including renovation of the courtyard east facade with a glazed entrance vestibule and adjacent bays to provide interior daylight and inviting exterior. Other improvements include group study, conference spaces, library furniture, new main level public restrooms, and a new central circulation desk.
Sojourner Truth Family
Sojourner Truth was born in 1797 on the Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh estate in Swartekill, in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. She was the second youngest in a slave family of around 10 or 12 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree, also slaves on the Hardenbergh plantation.
She spoke only Dutch until she was sold from her family around the age of nine. Because of the harsh treatment, she suffered at the hands of one of her masters, she learned to speak English quickly but had a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.
John Dumont purchased her when she was thirteen, and she worked for him for the next seventeen years. In 1817 the state of New York passed a law granting freedom to slaves born before July 4, 1799. However, this law declared that those slaves could not be freed until July 4, 1827.
While waiting over a decade for her freedom, Truth married a fellow slave named Thomas, with whom she had five children. As the date of her release approached, she realized that Dumont was planning to keep her enslaved. Thus, she ran away in 1826 with her infant daughter, leaving her husband and her other children behind. She found her way to the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen in New Paltz, who took her and her baby in.
Peter, Truth’s youngest son, took up a job on a whaling ship called the Nantucket Zone in 1839. She received three letters from him from 1840 to 1841, although he told her in his third letter that he had sent five letters. Peter said he never received any of her letters either. The ship returned to port in 1842 but Peter was not on board. Truth never heard from him ever again.
James, her firstborn, died in childhood. Diana was her second child and was the result of a rape by John Dumont. Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia were all born after she and Thomas united.
Sojourner Truth School
The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership offers classes to individuals and groups to promote and facilitate the skills needed to build a movement. The school teaches the organizing skills needed to equip people to be active, effective, and empowered.
The classes are designed to meet the needs of climate change activists, labor organizers, aspiring political candidates, those considering civil disobedience, people of faith seeking to express their outrage, folks involved in refugee and resettlement work, members of the LGBTQ community, people active in the Black Lives Matter movement, writers and artists who want to use their talents to create change, young people, and seniors seeking a way to be active.
The Truth School is saturating the area from Greenfield to Springfield, MA, with classes occurring several times a week throughout the year. Classes range from 90 minutes to several hours and many key classes will be repeated monthly.
The school’s trainers have expertise in their fields; experience teaching, training, and mentoring; and a commitment to a participatory model of teaching and learning. They include educators, social change activists, elected officials, journalists, social workers, members of the clergy, and others with valuable skills to share.
The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership is putting the talents and skills of experienced local experts in the service of movement building. It is officially connected with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. IPS serves as the School’s fiscal sponsor.
Truth School believes that knowledge and education strengthened by support and guidance, lead to empowerment and empowered people make a change. When people have the skills and confidence they need to do what they want to, the result is real and lasting change.
Sojourner Truth Academy
Sojourner Truth Academy was a charter school located in Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana, along Napoleon Avenue. It was co-founded by two women Channa Mae Cook, who was 28 when the school began operations and Kristin Leigh Moody.
The Recovery School District oversaw the operations of the school. In 2011, as the state reviewed which schools would have their charters renewed, the RSD told the school that it would not recommend renewal for Sojourner Truth Academy.
The school closed in May 2012 after announcing that it would voluntarily pay the penalties for its charter. In its history, the school had one senior class. An area resident named George Saucier said that the school had “a serious lack of control over its students” and that he was not surprised that a fight had occurred outside of the school in May 2012.
She helped slaves escape from plantation owners and helped them find housing and jobs. This was important because it gave slaves the strength to push on and make a difference.
Sojourner Truth also helped to integrate streetcars. This was ideal because not only could the blacks ride in the same vehicle as whites, but it showed the whites that they were just as equal.
In her travels, she became friends with many of the leading reformers. This was a big accomplishment since it shows Truth really did make a big impact.
Sojourner Truth PicturesSojourner Truth Pictures