Sojourner Truth (c.1797 - 1883)
“We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much.”
Sojourner Truth will forever be remembered for her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech against gender inequality, delivered at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Born a slave in upstate New York, she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826. But her son Peter, had been sold illegally, and Truth managed to recover him in the first such successful lawsuit against a white man by a black woman.
Along with her freedom, Truth found religion and a calling as missionary and traveling Methodist preacher. Originally named Isabella, she took the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 on instructions, she said, from God. Soon after, she discovered the abolition movement and the leaders of the movement discovered her speaking talents. Illiterate all her life, she relied on a native eloquence and wit to disarm hostile crowds. Her travels were publicized in abolitionist periodicals and she drew a large following. She shared the stage with Frederick B. Douglass and was lauded by Harriet Beecher Stowe and other abolitionist leaders. Eventually she joined a Massachusetts education and industry association that supported a broad reform agenda, including women’s rights and pacifism. Throughout the 1850s she made dozens, even hundreds of speeches, including at the 1853 suffragist “mob convention” in New York City.
In 1857 she moved to Michigan, and later spent time recruiting black soldiers into the Union army during the Civil War. She helped raise donations of food and gifts to support African-American regiments. And after the war, she tried, unsuccessfully, to help former slaves and soldiers secure land grants from the federal government. She visited the White House in 1864 where she was received by President Abraham Lincoln.