Celebrating Black History and Excellence in Advocacy: Sojourner Truth

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In 1851, Isabella Baumfree, self-named Sojourner Truth, addressed a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in defense of women from theological attacks by a group of ministers. Her famous quote and the title of her speech rang out over the audience, “Ain’t I a woman?” Throughout the convention, various ministers had challenged a women’s place in the world based on perceived deficits in their physical prowess and their intellect. They even made theological based arguments that referenced the original sin of Eve.  Sojourner countered these attacks by exclaiming that she had worked and had as much muscle as any man. She argued that her intellect could be developed, just like any other person’s, to its full potential.  And, if Eve was the cause of the original sin, then women uniting could potentially right that wrong.  She further asked the audience, “Where did your Christ came from? From God who created him and woman who bore him. Man had nothing to do with him.”

Sojourner Truth embodied what it meant to be an advocate in the 19th century. Born on a plantation into slavery in 1797, she spent her entire life fighting injustice and fighting for her rights and the rights of people that looked like her. At age 30, after her plantation owner failed to abide by the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, Sojourner escaped from bondage. She would go on to say that she did not “run away, but instead walked away by daylight". Her indignation at injustice fueled her career as a preacher, and later an activist. She spoke out against slavery and fought for women’s rights until her death in 1883 in Battle Creek, Michigan.

We celebrate Sojourner Truth because her ideologies were revolutionary for her time. She fought for women’s rights in tandem with the rights of African Americans, making her an advocate of intersectional feminism before the term was even coined. Her fights in 19th century are the same ones we fight today. Her voice would ring out strong in the Black Lives Matter movement and she would have been on the ground standing strong with the women around the world during the Women’s March.

Sojourner Truth’s life serves as an example and motivation for the work we do at RYTF. Her legacy shows us that our battles are not new and we must continue to fight. Yet, her determination inspires us to do the best we can. When we understand our history, we become better equipped to navigate our present. When we take to the streets on behalf of women, immigrants, or human rights, we should find solace in that we are following in the footsteps of incredible Americans who have made great strides in this fight.  That’s why we’re taking the time to spotlight excellence in advocacy. Understanding the lives and legacies of these advocates makes our journey in activism that much easier. While we still have miles to go, our journey was started before our time and it’s up to us to continue making the strides that these heroes dedicated their lives to.