1797–NOVEMBER 26, 1883
Sojourner Truth was born in Ulster County, New York, around 1797. Born into slavery with the name Isabella Baumfree, she risked her life to escape with her baby son in 1826 before being freed a year later. A devoted Christian, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth for religious reasons in 1843, and spent much of her life working as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
Though Sojourner Truth’s activism was long and varied, she is best remembered for advocating for working-class Black women and slaves. Though she never learned to read or write, she was a powerful public speaker. In 1851, she gave a now-famous speech in which she declared that she was the equal of any man and deserved to be treated that way. A popular version of this story claims that she asked “Ain’t I a woman?” multiple times during this speech, but she may never have said this. Because Truth grew up in New York speaking Dutch as her First language, she probably would not have used the word “ain’t.” Because it was a good representation of what she fought for, this speech remains one of the most famous parts of her legacy.
Truth spent many more years lecturing and working as an activist in the women’s and Black civil rights movements. She spoke for both anti-slavery and women’s suffrage organizations. She died in 1883 around age 86.
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