Although she was born into slavery, Sojourner Truth is among the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time,” according to Smithsonian. In 1826, Truth escaped New York slavery with her infant daughter; she later went to court to sue for the recovery of her son. In 1828, she became the first black woman in U.S. history to win a legal case against a white man.
Born Isabella Baumfree, she named herself Sojourner Truth in 1843 while she also became well known as a Christian abolitionist and women’s right’s advocate. She helped call attention to the sexual violence against enslaved black women within abolitionist causes, and she insisted on considerations of race and class statuses within the women’s rights movement.
In this way, Truth’s anti-racist and anti-sexist activisms showed connections between abolition and suffrage. In her activisms she worked alongside Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
The first recorded version of Truth’s famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman” took place at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. It became one of the most important speeches in the history of abolition and women’s rights movements.
Truth’s speech asserts: “I have as much muscle as any man, and I can do as much work as any man…And ain’t I a woman?… he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”
Even though the convention took place in the service of women’s rights, few women dared to speak in public. Truth’s voice is consequently an enduring power in the intersectional activisms confronting race and gender.
Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1999)
Nell Irwin Painter, Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol (1996)