Truth was born in 1797 as Isabella, a Dutch-speaking slave in rural New
York. Separated from her family at age nine, she was sold several times
before ending up on the farm of John and Sally Dumont. As was the case
for most slaves in the rural North, Isabella lived isolated from other
African Americans, and she suffered from physical and sexual abuse at
the hands of her masters. Inspired by her conversations with God, which
she held alone in the woods, Isabella walked to freedom in 1826.
Although tempted to return to Dumont's farm, she was struck by a vision
of Jesus, during which she felt "baptized in the Holy Spirit," and she
gained the strength and confidence to resist her former master. In this
experience, Isabella was like countless African Americans who called on
the supernatural for the power to survive injustice and oppression
In 1828, Isabella moved to New York City and soon thereafter became a preacher in the "perfectionist," or Pentecostal tradition. Her faith and preaching brought her into contact with abolitionists and women's rights crusaders, and Truth became a powerful speaker on both subjects. She traveled extensively as a lecturer, particularly after the publication of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, which detailed her suffering as a slave. Her speeches were not political, but were based on her unique interpretation-as a woman and a former slave-of the Bible.
With the start of the Civil War, Truth became increasingly political in her work. She agitated for the inclusion of blacks in the Union Army, and, once they were permitted to join, volunteered by bringing them food and clothes. She became increasingly involved in the issue of women's suffrage, but broke with leaders Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when Stanton stated that she would not support the black vote if women were not also granted the right. Truth also fought for land to resettle freed slaves, and she saw the 1879 Exodus to Kansas as part of God's divine plan. Truth's famous "Ar'n't I a Woman?" speech, delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention, is a perfect example of how, as Nell Painter puts it, "at a time when most Americans thought of slaves as male and women as white, Truth embodied a fact that still bears repeating: Among blacks are women; among the women, there are blacks."
Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't
I A Woman?
Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?
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? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed 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 thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
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.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.