Isabella (Bella) Baumfree was one of 10 or 12 children born to slave parents. When she was 9 years old, she was sold to another owner who beat her every day. She was sold twice more including one owner who raped her repeatedly. She later married and had five children.
In 1799, the State of New York began to abolish slavery, but it took 28 years for slaves to win their freedom. Belle and her daughter escaped slavery. Her sons were not eligible yet for emancipation. She later found out that one of her sons was sold to a person in Alabama where emancipation did not apply. She sued to have her son returned. She became one of the first black women to ever be successful in the courts.
After emancipation, Belle worked for a Christian evangelist who persuaded her to become a Christian. She decided to change her name to Sojourner Truth because she believed that her journey was to tell the truth.
Sojourner became an evangelist and became very popular, drawing large crowds. Sojourner became involved in the abolition movement and the fight for women’s rights. It was at this time that she met some of the most notable abolition leaders, including Frederick Douglas.
In 1951, Sojourner spoke before the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. The speech was extemporaneous but became historic for the line: “Ain’t I a woman.” She was equating the struggles for freedom from slavery as well as equality for women.
For the rest of her life, Sojourner became noted for the fiery speeches she gave for equal rights. She was one of the nation’s first and strongest advocates for social justice including voting rights and property rights. Many of the rights have still not been fully achieved 150 years later.
A bust of Sojourner Truth appears in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. She is the first black woman to be honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. The 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover was named Sojourner.
It’s remarkable how a woman with no education and no resources could become a prominent advocate for basic human rights, many of which are still not fully achieved a century-and-a-half later.
It often takes one person with steadfast persistence and passion to become the voice for others. Being a voice against oppression requires coverage especially when others are not open to the message.
Just imagine how we might instill conviction in our own beliefs so that we can become advocates for what we think is right? Just imagine how we can give voice to those who have been oppressed equal to the voices of the privileged influencers of today? Just imagine how long (if ever) our society will accept “…all men people are created equal?”
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“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.” – Sojourner Truth