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Truth, Sojourner, Isabella Baumfree (ca. 1791-1883)

Sojourner Truth, an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, emancipated slave and itinerant evangelist, became arguably the most well-known 19th Century African American woman. Born around 1791, Isabella (her birth name) was the daughter of James and Betsey, slaves of Colonel Ardinburgh Hurley, Ulster County, New York. From a young age, she was bought and sold several times by slaveowners in New York. She married an enslaved man named Thomas, and together they had five children.

On July 4, 1827, the New York State Legislature emancipated Isabella, yet her owners at the time, the Dumonts, would not comply because they claimed she still owed them work. One morning before dawn, with a baby in her arms, she walked away from the Dumonts and took refuge with an abolitionist family who lived five miles away. During this time, she experienced a religious conversion and became active in the nearby Methodist church. Eventually, she moved with her son, Peter, to New York City, where she worked as a live-in domestic. She became involved in a religious cult known as the Kingdom, whose leader, Matthias, beat her and assigned her the heaviest workload.

The turning point in Isabella’s life came on June 1, 1843, when at the age of 52 she adopted a new name, Sojourner Truth, and headed east for the purpose of “exhorting the people to embrace Jesus, and refrain from sin.” For several years, she preached at camp meetings and lived in a utopian community, the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, which devoted itself to transcending class, race, and gender distinctions. Even though the community lasted less than five years, many reform-minded influential people visited Northampton, including abolitionist leaders Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Through these connections, she began to speak at public events on behalf of abolition and women’s rights. In 1851, she gave her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

In 1857, Truth bought a house with the help of friends

Charlotte girl's speech on race gets standing ovation

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