Sojourner Truth: She Was Born a Slave. Then She Sued – And Won

She was born into slavery on a small and isolated farm in New York state when it was still mainly Dutch (her native language was Dutch, not English). Her father was bought from Ghana, and her mother from Guinea.

Sojourner Truth still grew up to become the only black woman who sued a white man and won (twice!). She also published a best-selling book, became a sought-after speaker throughout the US, and performed one of the most famous speeches in American feminist history. 

She was born in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree. When she was 9, she was sold along with a herd of sheep for $100. She was sold several more times during her life. 

The owner of the farm forced her to marry another slave on the farm, to increase the number of slaves that he owned. Her three children were born from this marriage: Peter, Elizabeth, and Sophia. 

In 1826, her owner broke an agreement they made to release her. She decided to escape with her daughter Sophia. Years later, she said, “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight….”

Shortly after her escape, she found out that her five-year-old son, Peter, was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. 

How could an illiterate Black woman without any possesions, whose Mother tongue wasn’t even English, stand against a white farm owner, who spoke perfect English?

Any other woman would have given up, but not Truth. She decided to sue her former owner and demand that her son would be returned to her. To everyone’s astonishment, she won the trial and reunited with her son. It was the first time that a Black woman won a lawsuit against a white man. 

Shortly after, she experienced a divine revelation, converted to Evangelism, and changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She joined a religious preacher who was later revealed to be a cult leader. When it became clear that he was a con artist, some of the cult leaders tried to pin the blame on Truth. She didn’t bat an eye. Instead sued them for defamation. Again, she won the lawsuit.

She dedicated the rest of her life to the abolition of slavery and to helping slaves escape into freedom. She was one of the most famous speakers against slavery, along with Harriet Tubman and Fredrick Douglas. Her memoir, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, became a bestseller. She didn’t know how to read or write, so she dictated the book to a friend. The book is one of the only first-person accounts of slavery in the North. 

Abolition wasn’t the only social issue that Truth dedicated her life to. She was one of the first feminists in the United States, and one of the first to speak about what we now call Intersectionalism: the intersection of social rifts or struggles. 

In 1851, at a conference for women’s rights in Ohio, she delivered her speech Ain’t I A Woman, one of the most famous speeches in the history of the feminist movement. The speech still taught in schools throughout the United States.

She didn’t cut anyone any slack in her speech. She criticized both the women’s rights movement, as well as the abolition movement, for ignoring Black women. She stressed that Black women were both Black and women, and they couldn’t be expected to choose between women’s rights or the abolition of slavery and that both movements were equally important to them. 

With the start of the Civil War, Truth traveled throughout the North and convinced Black people (including her grandson) to join the forces. With the end of the war, she was invited to Washington D.C to assist in the establishment of a government office that would create a rehabilitation program for freed slaves. There, she met Abraham Lincoln several times.

She continued to travel throughout the US, speaking up for women’s rights and rehabilitation of freed slaves, as long as she was able to.

She passed away in 1883, at the age of 86. Ain’t I a Woman is still considered to be one of the most important, and most quotes, speeches in the history of the US. Quite an amazing accomplishment for someone who was born into slavery and never learned how to read or write. 

Sojourner Truth is one of the groundbreaking women featured in our coloring book!

The coloring book features 21 drawings of groundbreaking women such as Marie Curie, Jane Austin, Beyonce, Dana International, and more!

Sojourner Truth 01 e1589890228356

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