~Kicha~

~Kicha~

Posted on 04/28/2009


Photo taken on January 1, 1864


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African American
1864
African American Woman
Sojourner Truth
Former Slave
Vintage Portraiture


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The Truth

The Truth
"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? I have borne thirteen children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me -- and ain't I woman?"

The woman we know as Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), was born into slavery in New York as Isabella Baumfree (after her father's owner, Baumfree). She was sold several times, and while owned by the John Dumont family in Ulster County, married Thomas, another of Dumont's slaves. She had five children with Thomas. In 1827, New York law emancipated all slaves, but Isabella had already left her husband and run away with her youngest child. She went to work for the family of Isaac VanWagenen.

While working for the Van Wagenen's -- whose name she used briefly -- she discovered that a member of the Dumont family had sold one of her children to slavery in Alabama. Since this son had been emancipated under New York Law, Isabella sued in court and won his return.

Isabella experienced a religious conversion, moved to New York City and to a Methodist perfectionist commune, and there came under the influence of a religious prophet named Mathias. The commune fell apart a few years later, with allegations of sexual improprieties and even murder. Isabella herself was accused of poisoning, and sued successfully for libel. She continued as well during that time to work as a household servant.

In 1843, she took the name Sojourner Truth, believing this to be on the instructions of the Holy Spirit and became a traveling preacher (the meaning of her new name). In the late 1840s she connected with the abolitionist movement, becoming a popular speaker. In 1850, she also began speaking on woman suffrage. Her most famous speech (above), Ain't I a Woman?, was given in 1851 at a women's rights convention in Ohio.

Sojourner Truth met Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote about her for the Atlantic Monthly and wrote a new introduction to Truth's autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth moved to Michigan and joined yet another religious commune, this one associated with the Friends. She was at one point friendly with Millerites, a religious movement that grew out of Methodism and later became the Seventh Day Adventists.

During the Civil War Sojourner Truth raised food and clothing contributions for black regiments, and met Abraham Lincoln at the White House in 1864. While there, she tried to challenge the discrimination that segregated street cars by race.

After the War ended, Sojourner Truth again spoke widely, advocating for some time a "Negro State" in the west. She spoke mainly to white audiences, and mostly on religion, "Negro" and women's rights, and on temperance, though immediately after the Civil War she tried to organize efforts to provide jobs for black refugees from the war.

Active until 1875, when her grandson and companion fell ill and died, Sojourner Truth returned to Michigan where her health deteriorated and she died in 1883 in a Battle Creek sanitarium of infected ulcers on her legs. She was buried in Battle Creek, Michigan, after a very well-attended funeral.

On April 28, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama honored the abolitionist reflecting on her own family's rise from slavery to the White House as she helped to unveil a statue of Sojourner Truth — the first black woman to be so honored at the Capitol. "I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendant of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America," Mrs. Obama said to loud applause at a ceremony at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC.

Carte de visite, 1864
Gladstone Collection, Prints and Photographs Division

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