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.