“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
Isabella Baumfree, who later renamed herself as Sojourner Truth in 1843, passed away 130 years ago on November 26th, 1883. The legacy she left as an African-American Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Activist is still as relevant today as it was 130 years ago, and worth spending some serious time reflecting on.
It can be said that Sojourner Truth was the first intersectional feminist. As a black woman, Sojourner was aware that she was being doubly discriminated against. She became an outspoken supporter of women’s emancipation and lectured on women’s rights and black freedom. In 1854, she gave one of her most famous speeches at the Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio– After listening to several clergymen of various persuasions who declared that women were inferior to men and that God had not meant for women to have rights, Sojourner spoke directly to the men:
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place, and ain’t I a woman? . . . I have plowed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me–and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man (when I could get it), and bear the lash as well–and ain’t I a woman? I have borne five children and seen most all sold off into slavery and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard–and ain’t I a woman?
In order to celebrate her life, I’d like to share a few interesting facts about her that I’ve found in our Biographers in Context Database:
- Isabella spent her early childhood on an estate owned by Dutch settlers and thus her first spoken language was Dutch.
- In 1828 she became the first black woman who took a white man to court and won.
- In 1835, breaking barriers once again, she became the first black to win a slander suit against a white; she was awarded $125.
- She published six editions of her autobiography, the Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
- With the money she received from the sales of her book, Sojourner bought land and a house in Michigan, near Battle Creek.
- As an adult she was almost six feet tall and chose to dress as a Quaker.
- During the Civil War, she visited and gave words of encouragement to the black troops stationed in Detroit.
- In 1864, when she was 67 years old, she filed a suit to affirm that black people had the same legal rights as white people to ride on public transport. Her court case was won, but only after she had her arm dislocated by a conductor who refused to let her board a streetcar.
- After the war, Sojourner noticed that many of the freed men and women were unable to return to their home and were now living in harsh poverty. She began to give public lectures and circulated petitions which requested that land in the West be set aside for freed blacks.
- She died November 26th 1883 at her home in Battle Creek of infected ulcers on her legs.
The library has a ton of books and resources about Sojourner Truth’s life. You should definitely come in to check some out, along with one of our copies of her autobiography!