Updated: Jun 29, 2021
A abolition and women's rights activist that was a catalyst for change.
By: Naya Dukkipati
“I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail.”
At the age of 11, Isabella Baumfree was sold. She fled her master in 1826, one year before the abolition of slavery in New York, and eventually became a freed slave. As a free woman, she wanted to piece her family back together and help others. She approached the grand jury of Kingston in 1828 to fight for custody of her son, Peter, who was illegally sold to an enslaver in Alabama. She faced opposition, but she was unfazed. Through her continuous efforts of raising funds, strategizing, and not losing hope, her son was returned to her. However, her work was not done yet.
Baumfree would continue to pursue justice and fight for people’s rights. During the abolition of slavery in 1799, she faced harship and despair. While slavery was “abolsihed,” there was a law that stated people who were currently enslaved had to serve a period of “indentured servitude” until their mid 20s. Baumfree was repeatedly sold and was separated from her loved ones. She married a man and had three children with them and wanted to keep her family together. Her master had promised to flee her by 1826, but when she discovered his true intentions, she fled for her safety. At this point, she was able to rescue her daughter, but her other children remained in bondage. She then fought for her son and had to fight for another two years before her other child was returned to her.
During this period, Baumfree found solace in this change and wanted to live a fulfilling life where she could have aspirations as she was no longer limited to the confinements of slavery. Although, she could not read or write, Baumfree became an orator where she would give speeches about her experiences with slavery and sexual abuse from her master alluding to bibilical references and spirtual ideaoliges. Through her work, she became a prominent figure for abolition and women’s rights. During her triumph, she changed her name to as we all know her today: Sojourner Truth.
From this name change, she became a catalyst for change as she raised awareness for issues and showed that words can change the hearts and minds of people. Being the only black women in a room, she would often face disrespect from bigoted audiences. For instance, she was threatened by a mob of white men who claimed they would burn her tent down if she did not leave. Instead of confronting them and creating disorder, she continued with her speech and placated the men with her words to where they no longer wanted to harm her.
Truth would go on to influence communities with her speeches across the country. However, her work was not limited to public speaking. She assisted the Union Army during the Civil War by recruiting soldiers and organizing supplies for black troops. She then met with Abraham Lincoln and said she would not support the black vote until women received the same rights.
Truth continued this work and instilled values of equality within others until her death in 1883. Whether she made legislative change or convinced others of her values simply through words, she was an instigator for change and is a historical figure that should not be forgotten.
Let Truth’s courage inspire you to always fight for what you believe in!
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