Biography of a Feminist: Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth, was a black woman born into slavery in New York in 1797.  Her original name was Isabella Baumfree. She was first sold at the age of nine at an auction when her original owner died. After being  regularly beaten and raped in her next home, she got passed around to different households. Among her owners, John Dumont was relatively kind to her. She got married and had five children whilst working for him. He had promised her emancipation but later on saw that she was unworthy of it and denied it to her. Which led to her rebellion against his injustice in 1826, and her decision to walk away from her owner and leave her children behind as she had no right to take them along. “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right”. Those words mark the birth of the feminist in Isabella Baumfree.

Following that, Dumont sold one of Baumfree’s children illegally, so she filed a law suit against him and won her son back. Thus she became the first black woman who won a court case against a white man.

In 1843, after becoming a devout Christian,  she joined “Northampton Association of Education and Industry”, an organization that supports women’s rights, and changed her name to Sojourner Truth, following a call from the holy spirit as she described it. Truth then travelled around the country preaching about slave emancipation, and shared her personal experience with the public.  She collaborated with her friend Olive Gilbert to publish the book “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave” which presented her with more speaking opportunities.

“Ain’t I a woman?” her most renowned speech was delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851. Her most powerful quote was: “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? … 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?”. By saying this Truth proclaimed that black women were perfectly capable of doing any jobs that needed hard labor which in turn made women, whether  white or black, equal to men.

In 1864, she worked on recruiting black men for the civil war and met with president Abraham Lincoln in the framework of improving living conditions for newly emancipated slaves.  Her daring led her to the polling booths at the presidential elections of 1872 but she was denied entrance at the doors.

Truth kept active with her public speaking until 1875 when her health started deteriorating. She passed away in her home in Michigan in 1883 surrounded by her family members.

Sojourner Truth’s battle remains  quite notable in the history of feminism.  Her initiatives and hard fought battles led the way for other women to rebel against their oppressors.  Had she not emancipated herself, Rosa Parks may have been forced to give up her seat on the bus.

Contributed by Phoenix

Guest Contributor

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