The Truth about Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth is one of those figures in history who looms very large, and people think they know her.  To be sure, she is one of the historic figures who had a better understanding of what the whole “PR” spiel was about in term of her legacy. For instance, the whole “Ain’t I a Woman” speech punctuated by Truth ripping at her clothes? Not true.  But why would Truth let reporters circulate a story get around about her?  And let the reporters change up her speech a bit?  Truth knew what good PR was all about.  As someone in the throws of thinking about marketing her first book, I don’t blame her one bit.

Truth was born Isabella Baumfree as a slave in New York.  Dutch, not English, was her first language.  As a powerful orator, she’s not going to bother to let people know that she spoke Dutch in a country that speaks primarily English.  Too smart for that.  And a slave?  In New York?  Well, yes.  New York had slavery.  Mintus Northup, Solomon Northup’s father was freed by the white Northrups. Mintus’s freedom allowed Solomon to be born free ten years later. They didn’t say anything about that 12 Years a Slave. 

Besides being a speaker for emancipation and for women’s suffrage, Truth is the first African American woman to win a court case over the illegal sale of her son.  What a remarkable accomplishment from an absolutely strong woman. She was amazing. We don’t remember her enough for all the right reasons.  Isabella Baumfree is a perfectly nice name, but she changed it to Sojourner Truth because, as she said, “I was to declare truth unto people.”  Oh yes.  Truth may have been an illiterate slave, but she could read her world enough to know what a good soundbite was all about.

7 thoughts on “The Truth about Sojourner Truth

  1. I read your articles regularly but don’t always comment (lurking:), but I had to comment about Isabella. So much I didn’t know, so thank you was more for sharing and btw, she did have a fierce pen name, right?

  2. Can you expand more on how she won the court case over the illegal sale of her son. What right did she insist on in her case? I wouldn’t have thought slaves had any rights.

  3. Louise, she was not a slave at the time of the court case. She had escaped with one of her daughters and was purchased by some benefactors until New York’s emancipation law took effect in 1827. She was then free. Sometime after that, probably because she knew she was free and had legal standing, she started the court case to save her son Peter, who had been sold in the deep South territory of Alabama. And won him back! Nell Painter’s bio on Truth is my go to text on her.

    • I am glad that the courts recognized her legal standing, although it must have been hard to wait for the emancipation to occur so she would have the right. I’ll have to track down that bio. After being apart for so long, I hope she and her son had a good relationship afterward.

  4. Yes, they did. After she got him back she moved with him and her other children to New York. Peter got a job on a sailing boat when he was 17. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Peter disappeared 3 years later. She never heard from him again, even though his boat came back to port, he didn’t.

  5. Isabella Baumfree sounds like the heroine in a romance novel, doesn’t it? But for a freedom fighter, nothing beats Sojourner Truth. She knew how to influence people.

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