The contribution of the life, philosophy, and activism of Sojourner Truth was that she was effective in preaching to the community as a freedom fighter, abolitionist, and feminist. Representing many classes of people in Antebellum United States, she was able to illuminate for others the hardships and desires of black people, the poor and oppressed, and women. As slaves, blacks had no personal freedom.
They had no rights to themselves or their families, were whipped and tortured, experienced segregation and denial of citizenship, were denied salaries, and, women especially, endured the devastating agony of having their babies and children stripped from them and sold off to other arrogant and inhumane slave masters. In an effort to encourage radical change in her time, Truth took up the risky cause of making speeches against the strong forces of evil and in support of the righteous values of freedom and respect.
Liberating herself and other people was not limited by class, racial, economic, or gender lines, rather she held the torch of freedom as a beacon for all oppressed people to follow, calling for empowerment of the weak, tolerance for differences, and protection for all people (Waxman, 2007). Truth was born into slavery in the late 1790s, in a more rural area outside of the bustling New York City.
At the age of nine, Truth, then named Isabella, was sold by the slave master away from her parents and one remaining sibling to another New York slave owner. For nearly thirty years, she experienced a life of extremely difficult conditions, being repeatedly sexually abused and physically assaulted, and some of her children were forcibly taken from her and sold into bondage.
Luckily, after the New York Emancipation Act of 1827, Truth was freed along with other former slaves of this Northeastern region, and in 1843, Truth was inspired to assume her new name and began a mission of journeying across the country as an itinerant preacher, supporting the efforts of abolitionists and feminists in the North, becoming actively involved in breaking down the slave system and pressing for the rights of all subjugated people (Mullings, 2005).
Truth’s most famous speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851 is a wonderful demonstration of the strength of her ideals and the power of her words. In an excerpt from Brah and Phoenix’s 2004 article, Truth is quoted as having preached: That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm. I have plowed, I have planted, and I have gathered into barns.
And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much, and eat as much as any man–when I could get it–and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman? (p. 77) Her sharply painful and moving words, rich with truth and experience, sent tides of strength and power through the country’s movement for all levels of freedom in regard to all kinds of people.
In countering tyranny with liberty, and violence with peace, Truth became an emblem of the almost suffocated soul which was able to rise up, speak out, and lend valuable energy and motivation to the essential activism of her time. In defending her womanhood, her personhood, her right to full citizenship and social inclusion, Truth demanded respect during a time when evil was easily cast down the noses of the dishonorable elite. Standing firm in her beliefs and finding power in the spirituality of goodness, Truth was able to meet eyes with her oppressors and effectively shake the foundations of a flawed system.
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