This week Paper Epiphanies is highlighting an outstanding mother as our Woman of the Week in honor of our recent release of “The 4th Trimester” line. Sojourner Truth, originally Isabella Baumfree, was born a slave in New York in 1797. She spent the first thirty years of her life being bought and sold buy one New York plantation owner after another, experiencing a range of treatment including daily beatings until 1826 when she finally escaped from her last owner, John Dumont. During her enslavement, Sojourner had five children--only four of which survived childbirth. When she finally escaped, New York was on the cusp of emancipating its slaves, a process which had started in 1799, and Sojourner was only able to bring her youngest, infant daughter with her because the others were required to remain slaves until in their twenties. Sojourner and her daughter were taken in by a couple, who paid Dumont for her services but kept her and her child in their house until the official New York emancipation.
Then, in 1828, Dumont sold one of Sojourner’s sons, Peter, illegally to another owner. Sojourner took Dumont to court and was able to take her son back after months of proceedings, making history as one of the first black women to win in court against a white man (you go mamma!). At this time as well, Sojourner began her religious journey, becoming a devout Christian and befriending others involved in the religious community. Around this time, Sojourner was accused of the murder of one of her employers and, after being acquitted she was forced to serve time for murder.
In 1849, Sojourner reentered society and became a Methodist, changing her name and saying, “The Spirit calls me and I must go.” She then began to start touring around, preaching the spread of abolition and of women’s rights. During her promotion efforts she not only met and interacted with several other activists, such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, but she also gave several important speeches on women and black rights. Perhaps the most famous of these speeches was one gave at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention where she demanded equal rights for women and blacks, a daring and powerful speech, not only because of its radical message, but also because Sojourner was both of those oppressed minorities herself. During the civil war Sojourner also worked to recruit black soldiers for the Union and after the war tried (without success) to get land grants from the government for previous slaves.
Sojourner is remembered for being an amazing activist, fighting to bring about rights for blacks and women when everything was working against her. As both a mother and an activist, Sojourner stands out as being an amazing candidate for Paper Epiphanies’ Woman of the Week.