Historical Abolitionist of the Month: Sojourner Truth
By Emily Balan
The fight to end slavery is rooted in history and extends until today. Each month we will profile some of the brave men and women, both contemporary and historical, who have fought to eradicate slavery. Our historical abolitionist of the month is Sojourner Truth.
In 1797 Isabella Baumfree was born a piece of property. After being sold four times and physically abused by her owners, marrying a fellow slave, and bearing five children, she finally found freedom in 1856.
She changed her name to Sojourner Truth in honor of her new vocation—a travelling preacher spreading the word of the injustice of slavery. She drew strength from God, whom she believed made it her purpose in life to help abolish slavery.
Truth exposed the demeaning nature of slavery. She toured with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on slavery and human rights. While he spoke to the United States’ role in perpetuating slavery, she advocated for racial equality. She believed that as human beings people of every race should enjoy equal rights.
"While the race is sold of all their rights—has not God given to all his creatures the same rights? [God] appeared to me. Then I learned that I was a human being," she said in October 1856.
In the 1860s, Truth worked for the Freedman's Bureau, a temporary government program to help former slaves transition into freedom. She encouraged African Americans to stand up for their universal right to liberty and successfully relocated many former slaves to northern and western settlements, including her son Peter, who had been illegally sold from New York to Alabama. She, an illiterate ex-slave, brought this issue before the court and secured her son's return to New York.
After President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation she continued to advocate for both racial and gender equality. She promoted desegregation of streetcars in Washington, D.C. She also petitioned Congress for land grants for former slaves as the first step toward self-sufficiency and the end to indentured servitude.
Though slavery is outlawed in the United States, many are still trapped in bondage, exploited for their labor and their bodies. To continue Sojourner Truth’s mission, we must disrupt the business of human trafficking by ending its profitability and holding perpetrators accountable.