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Saturday, February 2, 2013

BLACK HISTORY MONTH CELEBRATION: SOJOURNER TRUTH

HAPPY BLACK HISTORY MONTH! Today we remember: Sojourner Truth, an Abolitionist, Freedom Fighter, Mother and Warrior....


On June 1, 1843, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to Methodism and the abolition of slavery. In 1844, she joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Founded by abolitionists, the organization supported a broad reform agenda including women's rights and pacifism. Members lived together on 500 acres as a self-sufficient community. Truth met a number of leading abolitionists at Northampton, including William Lloyd Garrison,Frederick Douglass and David Ruggles. 

Although the Northampton community disbanded in 1846, Sojourner Truth's career as an activist and reformer was just beginning. William Lloyd Garrison published her memoirs in 1850 under the titleThe Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave. Truth dictated her recollections to a friend, since she could not read or write. That same year, Truth spoke at the first National Women's Rights Convention in Worcester, Massachusetts. She soon began touring regularly with abolitionist George Thompson, speaking to large crowds on the subjects of slavery and human rights. She was one of several escaped slaves, along with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, to rise to prominence as an abolitionist leader and a testament to the humanity of enslaved people.

In May of 1851, Truth delivered a speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron. The extemporaneous speech, recorded by several observers, would come to be known as "Ain't I a Woman?" The first version of the speech, published a month later by Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle editor Marius Robinson, did not include the question "Ain't I a woman?" even once. Robinson had attended the convention and recorded Truth's words himself. The famous phrase would appear in print 12 years later, as the refrain of a Southern-tinged version of the speech. It is unlikely that Sojourner Truth, a native of New York whose first language was Dutch, would have spoken in this Southern idiom. 
Truth continued to tour Ohio from 1851 to 1853, working closely with Marius Robinson to publicize the antislavery movement in the state. As Truth's reputation grew and the abolition movement gained momentum, she drew increasingly larger and more hospitable audiences. Even in abolitionist circles, some of Truth's opinions were considered radical. She sought political equality for all women.
True to her broad reform ideals, Truth continued to agitate for change even after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. In 1865, Truth attempted to force the desegregation of streetcars in Washington by riding in cars designated for whites. A major project of her later life was the movement to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves. She argued that ownership of private property, and particularly land, would give African Americans self-sufficiency and free them from a kind of indentured servitude to wealthy landowners. Although Truth pursued this goal forcefully for many years, she was unable to sway Congress.
Sojourner Truth died at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan, on November 26, 1883. She is buried alongside her family at Battle Creek's Oak Hill Cemetery. Until old age intervened, Truth continued to speak passionately on the subjects of women's rights, universal suffrage and prison reform. She was also an outspoken opponent of capital punishment, testifying before the Michigan state legislature against the practice. She also championed prison reform in Michigan and across the country. While always controversial, Truth was embraced by a community of reformers including Amy Post,Wendell PhillipsWilliam Lloyd GarrisonLucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony—friends with whom she collaborated until the end of her life. 


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