Born into slavery in Swartekill, New York in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, better known as Sojourner Truth, was sold away from her home at the age of nine years along with a flock of sheep for one hundred dollars.
She like so many female slaves was physically and sexually abused by her owners. Instead of becoming bitter, however, Truth sought help from the Creator. She made a make-shift arbor outdoors where she poured her heart out to God seeking His deliverance. She was not disappointed.
The man she loved and had a child with was owned by another man and the law said that any children belonged to the father’s owner; therefore, Sojourner was not allowed to remain with the father. Her owner later forced her to marry an older slave with whom she had a son and two daughters.
The state of New York emancipated slaves in 1827. Just prior to her emancipation Truth’s owner illegally sold her son. She petitioned the court to acquire her son and won her case securing his return from the South. This was the first instance where a black woman successfully challenged a white man in a United States court and won.
Because of her religious faith Isabella “Belle” Baumfree changed her name. She claimed God told her that her name would now be Sojourner since, “I was to travel up an’ down the land, showin’ people their sins, a’ bein’ a sign unto them.” She asked God what was to be her last name, “cause everybody else had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.” This was 1843.
By the next year she had linked with such well-known abolitionists as Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and David Ruggles. She gave a famous extemporaneous speech in the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, which catapulted her into the Women’s Suffrage movement with notables Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Amy Post.
Truth became a renowned abolitionist advocate during the American Civil War recruiting black men to serve in the Union Army. She enlisted her grandson to serve in the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment! Being summoned to Washington D. C. in 1864 to serve in the National Freedman’s Relief Association, she met with Abraham Lincoln. Of her meeting with Lincoln she stated in her Narrative, “I told him I had never heard of him before he was talked up for president.” By all accounts he smilingly replied, “I had heard of you many times before that.”
Despite living a full life that saw great social reforms her final words to a Grand Rapids, Michigan, news reporter were, “Be a follower of the Lord Jesus.” Sojourner Truth placed one achievement above all the rest in her time on earth, that she had made Jesus the Lord of her life and had, therefore, found and experienced the greatest truth, indeed. Her body lies today at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Whatever my predicament in life and no matter the odds against me, O Lord, your call places me in front and ahead of all disparity, causing me to surge past trouble to my destiny’s goals. Keep me secure in the palm of your hand, O God, my Savior!
True Pioneers are willing to risk all in their quest to live out the new name given to their Christian character by Heaven.-Dennis L. Kutzner