(1797? - 1883)
Facts & Observations by Jonathan Sprout
She suffered through slavery until the age of 30. A spellbinding preacher with a beautiful, powerful singing voice, she became the first black woman to travel across America denouncing slavery. She was a simple, honest and deeply religious activist who stood for freedom and women’s rights. Her poise, self-confidence and fiery passion made her into an early national symbol for strong black women.
“I have as much muscle as any man and I can do as much work as any man... And aren’t I a woman?” - Sojourner Truth
There’s a question mark with Ms. Truth’s birth year because we don’t know when she was born. Slave birth records were often poorly kept.
Sojourner Truth never learned how to read. Evidently, it was against the law for her to learn how to read and write when she was a slave. The important thing to realize here is that she was able to become a hero in spite of this limitation that was placed upon her. Imagine what we can do to become heroes as we are learning to read and write. Most of us are given wonderful opportunities Sojourner never had.
She was born with the name Isabella. Sojourner Truth was the name she gave herself when she was 46 years old. She was a friend to Frederick Douglass and to Susan B. Anthony. She once met Abraham Lincoln when he was president and came away very impressed by him.
I love the story of Sojourner’s powerful “Ain’t I a Woman” speech that she delivered before an audience at a Women’s Rights convention in Ohio in May, 1851. There are different accounts of what she said, but according to Frances Gage, a celebrated antislavery fighter and president of the Convention, some of what Ms. Truth said was:
“Look at me! Look at my arm.” She bared her right arm and flexed her powerful muscles. “I have plowed, I have planted, and I have 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?”
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right-side up again. And now that they are asking to do it, the men better let ‘em.”
Teachers, I have read and recommend what might be considered Sojourner Truth’s definitive biography. It’s by Nell Painter titled Sojourner Truth: A Life A Symbol.
The name of my song about Sojourner Truth is Aren’t I a Woman, not Ain’t I a woman. Nell Painter argues in her book that since Sojourner grew up in a Dutch family and acquired a Dutch accent, she may have actually been saying aren’t instead of ain’t in that famous speech. I prefer to give Ms. Truth the benefit of the doubt.