On this day in 1797, abolitionist and women’s right activist Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York. Details of her early life remain cloudy due to the time period. However, it is known that Truth birthed five children, three of which were sold away from her.
Upon escape in 1827, she became heavily involved in moral reform, collecting supplies for African Americans during the Civil War and advocating during the Reconstruction period for freedpeople.
In the 1940’s, Truth moved to Massachusetts to work among the Garrisonian abolitionists. Having proved her abilities as an influential platform figure, Truth chose to relocate to Battle Creek, Michigan.
In Michigan, she collected food and clothing for black regiments. Truth traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Abraham Lincoln to discuss relief work for the freedpeople. During the Reconstruction era, Truth barely got by, relying on selling a narrative of her life for income.
She created a petition to obtain land for the freedpeople, going so far as to suggest the idea of a “Negro state” in the West. Describing the potential effect of such a petition, Truth said, “Send tons of paper down to Washington for them spouters to chaw on.” Although she was met with resistance, she stood strong in her values, denouncing racism with one of her most well-known quotes: “It is hard for the old slaveholding spirit to die, but die it must.”
Her best known speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” delivered in 1851 at a convention in Ohio, remains one of the most powerful deliverances of all time. Harriet Beecher Stowe stated that she had never “been conversant with anyone who had more of that silent and subtle power which we call personal presence than this woman.”
The tone and substance of Truth’s language enabled her to inspire thousands across the country. “Give ’em land and an outset, and hab teachers learn ’em to read. Den they can be somebody,” she said.
Truth died of old age in 1883. Her funeral, held in Battle Creek, Michigan, was the largest to ever be held in the town.