Women’s History Month: Sojourner Truth’s Legacy
Women’s History Month is a moment to reflect on the amazing women in history who have gotten us to where we are now and those who continue the fight for women's rights. This month we recognize the work of Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), an abolitionist and visionary for a world free of racism, government-implemented systemic abuses, and inequalities against women. Truth was born into slavery in the late 1790s, but she managed to escape and establish herself as an activist for women, slavery and prison abolition, and anti-segregationism. Among the most remarkable things about Sojourner Truth was her ability to speak eloquently of a world that embodied equal rights for all while many were still trying to grasp what freedom truly meant.
Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Bomfree in New York. She escaped slavery in 1827. Shortly after, she sued a white enslaver for illegally selling her son and became the first black woman in history to win a lawsuit against a white man. In 1828, Truth began working alongside a local minister and became a preacher herself. Truth became a compelling speaker, despite never learning to read or write. In 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth as she believed she was chosen by God to preach “truth” to the world.
In the mid 19th century, many people in America were barely escaping the grips of slavery, racial segregation was deepening, and a disregard for women’s autonomous rights in the political agenda was apparent. Many influential abolitionist thinkers believed formerly enslaved men should receive their rights first over women. Truth was revolutionary in this regard, because she resisted the patriarchal attempt to make women's rights secondary and preached that women always deserved equal rights to men. Many people during this time thought of Sojourner Truth as an unconventional radical by being outspoken of her perspective as a black woman. Still, she knew if she did not speak up, very few others would likely speak up on her behalf. Even Fredrick Douglas and Sojourner Truth butt heads on the issue of whether or not black women should receive rights alongside men.
During this time, most of the most influential feminist leaders were white. It is known that numerous of these women held their own racist ideas, and were not crafting solutions with non-white women in mind or addressing the issues that BIPOC women face. Nonetheless, Truth prevailed over racism and oppression to tell her truth and become a foremother for black feminism.
Truth spoke nationally at many conferences throughout her life. Among her most famous speeches was “Ain’t I a Woman,” which she presented in 1851 at the Women's Rights Convention. In the speech, she describes the power of women in their ability to work equally to men and their profound ability to birth each generation of human beings. She spent the rest of her life fighting for equality, and against the racism and sexism that she, and so many others, experienced.
Truth once said, “I am above eighty years old ... I suppose I am about the only colored woman that goes about to speak for the rights of the colored women. I want to keep the thing stirring now that the ice is cracked.” Sojourner Truth unapologetically fought for what she believed in; her nearly 200-year old ideas permeate in many of the things we still fight for today, and so the ice continues to crack.