Sojourner Truth (ca. 1795–1883) was an African-American evangelist and abolitionist. Born a slave named Isabella in Ulster County, New York, she grew to womanhood working on the farms and in the homes of various slave owners. She and her slave husband, Thomas, had five children, also slaves.
In her thirties she gained her freedom through New York’s Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, left her husband, and found refuge with Quaker friends who lived nearby. Active abolitionists, they helped Isabella fight those responsible for the illegal sale of her son Peter. She won her case and her son’s return, becoming one of the first black women in America to win a court case.
During the late 1840s, Isabella became involved with antislavery movements. Converted during a time of prayer, she believed God had called her to become a traveling evangelist and wanted to change her name to reflect her new calling. Because Psalm 39:12 came to her mind, she chose Sojourner and from John 8:32, about the truth setting people free, she took her last name.
Let … individuals make the most of what God has given them, have their neighbors do the same, and then do all they can to serve each other. There is no use in one man, or one nation, to try to do or be everything. It is a good thing to be dependent on each other for something, it makes us civil and peaceable. –Sojourner Truth
At outdoor religious meetings Sojourner Truth spoke about the evils of slavery; and, though illiterate, she preached eloquently, effectively, and inspirationally. A fiery advocate for the women’s suffrage movement, Sojourner passionately delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at an Ohio convention in 1851. Through her powerful, booming, and prophetic voice, she raised awareness of racism and sexism, making it clear that such evils are unacceptable. Mixed in with her preaching and teaching, she sang moving renditions of church hymns. Her autobiography was printed in 1850. She continued to be an outspoken supporter of women’s suffrage until she was in her eighties.
Ellen K. McCormick, The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, ed. Keith Beasley-Topliff. Copyright © 2017. Used by permission of Upper Room Books.