Sojourner TruthSojourner Truth epitomized the endurance and charisma of this extraordinary group of women. Born a slave in New York, she grew up speaking Dutch. She escaped from slavery in 1827, settling with a son and daughter in the supportive Dutch- American Van Wagener family, for whom she worked as a servant. They helped her win a legal battle for her son's freedom, and she took their name. Striking out on her own, she worked with a preacher to convert prostitutes to Christianity and lived in a progressive communal home. She was christened "Sojourner Truth" for the mystical voices and visions she began to experience. To spread the truth of these visionary teachings, she sojourned alone, lecturing, singing gospel songs, and preaching abolitionism through many states over three decades. Encouraged by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, she advocated women's suffrage. Her life is told in the Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850), an autobiographical account transcribed and edited by Olive Gilbert. Illiterate her whole life, she spoke Dutch-accented English. Sojourner Truth is said to have bared her breast at a women's rights convention when she was accused of really being a man. Her answer to a man who said that women were the weaker sex has become legendary:
I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into bars, 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 them 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?
This humorous and irreverent orator has been compared to the great blues singers. Harriet Beecher Stowe and many others found wisdom in this visionary black woman, who could declare, "Lord, Lord, I can love even de white folk!"