Who Was Sojourner Truth and How Did She Get Her Name?
Sojourner Truth was an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist born into slavery in 1797 in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
At birth, her given name was Isabella. On June 1, Pentecost Sunday, she gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her”.
But why did she chose Sojourner?
A sojourner is a person who only stays in one place for a short time. They move around, sometimes traveling around a region and other times throughout the world. She chose the name because she heard the Spirit of God calling on her to preach the truth. She told her friends: “The Spirit calls me, and I must go,” and left to make her way traveling and preaching about the abolition of slavery.
Taking along only a few possessions in a pillowcase, she traveled north, working her way up through the Connecticut River Valley, towards Massachusetts. She would then travel throughout the United States, speaking for abolition and women’s rights.
Truth’s best-known speech is one called “Ain’t I a Woman?” In it, she argued against the idea that women were weaker and inferior to men. As evidence, she pointed to her own experience toiling away on farms. She noted, “I could work as much and eat as much as a man… And ain’t I a woman?”
Truth often worked closely with other activists of the day, including Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. She also worked with Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Truth was a supporter of suffrage movements for the rest of her life.
Despite never learning to read and write, Truth produced an autobiography. It is titled The Narrative of Sojourner Truth. She dictated the book to her friend, Olive Gilbert, who wrote it down. Eventually, Truth settled in Michigan, where she died on November 26, 1883.
In 2014, Truth was included in Smithsonian magazine’s list of the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time”. A memorial bust of Truth was unveiled in 2009 in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. She is the first African American to have a statue in the Capitol building.