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Wednesday’s Wise Woman … Sojourner Truth

February 13, 2013

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (1797 -1883) changed her name in 1843 from Isabella Baumfree; the name she was given by her Dutch owners. She was an African -American abolitionist and a women’s rights activist.

She was born to James and Elizabeth, slaves captured from the Gold Coast. She was one of 10 or 12 children all enslaved by Colonel Hardenbergh. When he died, she at 9 years  was sold at auction with a flock of sheep.  Sojourner , known then as Belle was cruelly treated by a succession of owners. 

In 1815 Sojourner met and fell in love with a slave called Robert from a nearby farm. The relationship was forbidden because Robert’s owner could not claim any children they might have.
Robert was savagely beaten to prevent them meeting as a result he died a little later.  While expecting Robert’s child she was forced to marry another older slave named Thomas and went on to have 4 more children .

In 1799 the state of New York began the abolition of slavery but it was not completed until 1827.  Sojourner’s master agreed to free her before the ‘state of emancipation’  however he changed his mind and she remained, expected to work harder to earn her release.
Later in 1826 Sojourner was able to escape with her baby daughter. She had to leave her other children because they were still legally bound to the master until they reach 20 years of age.
She was able to recover her son later through the courts and became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
The first thing she did when she won her freedom was change her name.  Sojourner means traveller; and she did.  She travelled the country, on foot preaching against slavery and the racism that caused it. She was a very tall woman; with a loud voice and a forthright disposition.
Although she could not read or write she had memorised long tracts from the bible.  She learn well and would find herself in ‘white only’  churches arguing with the preachers about the scriptures.  When challenged she would defend herself and the African -Americans who had been enslaved and mistreated all over America not just the south;  with her only weapon –  words.
She went to great lengths to remind the white people that the black community had  a voice.  However, this made her very unpopular and she was threatened and abused in many places that she visited. Unperturbed she stood up courageously for the most American tradition ‘freedom’ and maintaining her right to ‘freedom of speech’ help to win freedom; then, and for future generations of African Americans and women.

Further reading Peaceful Heroes Jonah Winter illustrated by Sean Addy

12 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2013 7:16 am

    Thanks so much for sharing her story – I had never heard of her, love her name..

    • February 13, 2013 7:30 am

      Yes, I wonder what name I should bear? Truth would be a different badge for me to honour . Sojourner would be a hard act to follow! Thank you from visiting and kine attention _/\_ with love from trying to be ‘truthful’

      • February 13, 2013 7:35 am

        I have known a few people who changed their names, chose their own names…instead of quiet acceptance it makes me wonder what their ‘real’ name was! I don’t think that in her case of course – very different times…

      • February 13, 2013 7:44 am

        That is an interesting comment; and I agree. However I use ‘another’ name for my blog. Perhaps I fear for the reasons you suggest … fear of discovery. I often think I would love to say ”You know what my name is Helen … and proud of it’ _/\_

      • February 13, 2013 7:45 am

        oh, no, I’m with you on the blog…

      • February 13, 2013 8:31 am

        _/\_ 🙂 xx

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