6 Facts About Sojourner Truth, the 19th-Century Abolitionist and Feminist

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sojourner Truth lived a remarkable life. After spending much of her adolescence and adulthood enslaved, Truth took destiny into her own hands at age 30. She fled to freedom, changed her name, and started life anew as a preacher, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate. Here are six facts you should know about this champion of equality.

1. Sojourner truth was born into slavery and first sold at age 9.

Sojourner Truth (née Isabella Baumfree) was born to enslaved parents in a Dutch community in Ulster County, New York, in 1797. After being separated from her family at age 9, she was sold three times to different people, one of whom beat her for speaking Dutch and not understanding their English commands.

2. Sojourner Truth ran away with her infant daughter.

In 1827, Truth and her infant daughter fled to a nearby abolitionist family's home, but she had to leave her other children behind. The abolitionist couple bought her freedom for $20 and helped her get on her feet.

3. Sojourner Truth was the first Black woman to successfully bring a lawsuit against a white man.

If you paid attention to the February 1, 2019, Google Doodle, you may have noticed there a courthouse in the background. It references the time Truth sued a slaveholder for illegally selling her 5-year-old son, Peter, after the New York Anti-Slavery Law had passed. The legal battle lasted months, but she won her son back.

4. Sojourner Truth became a preacher.

Once she was freed, Truth moved to New York City and started working for a local minister. She became a powerful speaker, preaching about faith, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery. She eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth, explaining that the holy spirit called upon her to speak the truth. In 1851, she delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. The text of that speech is debated, but in one version she reportedly declared, "I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man."

5. Sojourner truth met Abraham Lincoln.

Truth met and worked with plenty of well-known activists in her day, including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Most famously, though, her efforts to recruit Black Civil War soldiers put her on Abraham Lincoln's radar. She received an invitation to the White House in 1864, during which time President Lincoln showed her a Bible that had been given to him by Black residents of Baltimore.

6. Sojourner Truth was slated to appear on the $10 bill.

In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced it would unveil new currency designs in 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Sojourner Truth was selected as one of five women to be incorporated on the back of the $10 bill, but in 2018, the new treasury department officials wouldn't commit to going through with the bill designs. The new currency designs were never released in 2020.