The Truth About Sojourner Truth- Lessons from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum

Yesterday, I was at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library to preview the Cubs VS Cardinals, The Rivalry, a new exhibit. While there, I met an amazing woman, Patricia Jane Davis who was in character as Sojourner Truth. Davis portrays the part of Truth with great clarity and is a historian on the subject of this historical figure. A statue of Truth is onsite at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Davis/Truth was kind enough to pose next to it for me.  The similarity is striking.

I had heard the name Sojourner Truth before, but all I really knew was her name.  Davis said, “Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in 1797 in Ulster County, New York.  She changed her name from Isabella Bumfree in 1843 and traveled and spoke the truth of slavery and women.”

After hearing this I thought with the recent March 8th celebration of International Women’s Day, a word or two about Truth seemed to be in order.

Information available on the National Park Service website offered me more details on Sojourner Truth.  “Her early childhood was spent on a New York estate owned by a Dutch American named Colonel Johannes Hardenbergh. Like other slaves, she experienced the miseries of being sold and was cruelly beaten and mistreated. Around 1815 she fell in love with a fellow slave named Robert, but they were forced apart by Robert’s master. Isabella was instead forced to marry a slave named Thomas, with whom she had five children.  In 1827, after her master failed to honor his promise to free her or to uphold the New York Anti-Slavery Law of 1827, Isabella ran away, or, as she later informed her master, “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight….”

Later Truth experienced a religious conversion and became an itinerant preacher in 1843 changed her name.  While today we think of the 1960’s as the time when women reached out for independence, it really began long before this.  NPS states, “During this period she became involved in the growing antislavery movement, and by the 1850s she was involved in the woman’s rights movement as well. At the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio, Sojourner Truth delivered what is now recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, “Ain’t I a Woman?” She continued to speak out for the rights of African Americans and women during and after the Civil War. Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1883.”

A portion of her speech reads like this, “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

Her speech goes on to point out that women, no matter the color should have a full measure of life, not just a half.  She ends her speech with moving words and thoughts that I have never considered.  “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

All I can say is she got straight to the point in a time when women and blacks had little to no rights.  What a courageous woman that took her life in her own hands and made her own destiny to the best of her ability.  When we as men, or women are afraid to reach out and follow our dreams, claim our piece of life that God provided us with, I think we would all be well off to consider the words of Truth.

Thanks Patricia Jane Davis for enlightening me on this wonderful woman and sharing her character with others!