Although the abolitionist movement is often said to have started when the Mennonite and Quaker communities of Pennsylvania published a pamphlet condemning slavery in 1688, organized resistance by Africans was recorded as early as 1522. By the time the Civil War ended and the Thirteenth Amendment was enacted in 1865, the fight to end slavery had lasted nearly three centuries.
Sojourner Truth is remembered as a key figure of the abolitionist movement. She was born into slavery in 1797 and was auctioned off at the age of 9 after the estate owner passed away. Truth would later be sold three more times during a four-year period. She endured harsh treatment until John Dumont purchased her in 1810. Dumont was seemingly kind and promised to grant Truth her freedom a year before the New York legislature enacted the emancipation of slaves; in the end, however, he reneged on his promise. Truth chose to not wait around for emancipation, and in 1826 she escaped with her youngest daughter and spent a year living with a couple who allowed her to stay in their home until emancipation went into effect.
In 1828, Sojourner Truth took her former master Dumont to court after learning that he had illegally sold her five-year-old son Robert to a plantation owner in Alabama. She prevailed in court and succeeded in getting her son back, thus becoming the first African American woman to win a legal case against a slave owner.
Motivated by her court victory and emancipation, Truth became a devout Methodist and got actively involved in the abolitionist movement. She moved to Massachusetts and joined the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, an organization that promoted tolerance, peace and women’s rights. This is where she met Frederick Douglass, a former slave who became an abolitionist leader and one of the most influential African Americans in history.
By 1843, Truth had become a strong advocate of women’s rights. She changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to reflect her new calling in life as a preacher and social reformer. In 1851, Truth delivered a landmark speech before the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention; from this point on, she became a notable speaker at the most important conferences dealing with social equality.
Truth took advantage of her status as a high profile speaker to improve the lives of African Americans. She met President Abraham Lincoln, she recruited emancipated slaves to serve as Union Army soldiers, she fought for desegregation, she opposed the death penalty, and she attempted to obtain government land grants for emancipated slaves. She moved to Michigan in her golden years and passed away at her home in Battle Creek at the age of 86.
At the Sojourner Truth Institute in Battle Creek, visitors can learn about the life and achievements of this amazing African American woman, who is inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1999 a monument featuring a 12-foot tall bronze sculpture of Truth was inaugurated at the Institute. The NASA rover that has been exploring Mars since 1997 is named after her, she has been commemorated in postage stamps and currency, and she is widely considered to be an important part of American history.