Kelli Baker shares the incredible story of Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and advocate.
***Trigger warning: sexual assault and abuse is mentioned in this article.***
Sojourner Truth: Abolitionist and Advocate
by Kelli Baker
Sojourner Truth lived a life of courage as she boldly spoke the gospel across the country. She fought to abolish slavery and provide true reconciliation, which included equal rights. Sojourner advocated for women’s rights and pay for freed Black Americans who had nowhere to go after the abolition of slavery. Her tenacious efforts to bridge the racial divide in the Christian community propelled change in many hearts.
Isabella “Bell” Baumfree was born enslaved in New York around 1797. She was one of 10-12 children. Her birthdate and number of siblings are unknown due to her family’s enslavement. What is certain is that she experienced the brutal reality of a family being torn apart by the institution of slavery. As a child, Bell witnessed her siblings being auctioned off as property and learned firsthand what it meant to be sold.
When she was nine, her enslaver died, leaving her and her only remaining brother to be auctioned off. Coming from a Dutch-speaking enslaver, she only spoke Dutch. So when she arrived to the new master’s home, she received cruel punishment of daily whippings for not understanding what they were asking of her in English. During this brutal time, she prayed and believed God heard her. While she did not understand who God was, she knew he was with her.
During her enslavement, Bell was sold as property three times. Dumont, her final enslaver, was a pedophile who raped and impregnated her with her first child. His obsession with her also led to his wife hating her. Despite the abuse, Bell still found love with an enslaved man named Robert from a nearby farm.
A law allowing the gradual abolition of slavery in New York was passed in 1799. After enduring the abuses of slavery for over two decades, Bell finally walked away to freedom. Her enslaver, Dumont, promised her freedom on July 4, 1826, but he changed his mind on that day. Sadly, this was not uncommon. Bell felt she had fulfilled her obligation, so she took her infant child and left. While she could take her infant, she was forced to leave her other children behind. Later she said, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”
Bell and her daughter found refuge in the home of the Van Wagenens in New York City. They aided her in emancipating her older son, Peter, who was illegally sold by Dumont. Bell sued her former enslaver, becoming the first black woman to win a lawsuit against a white man. The two were reunited in 1828.
Becoming Sojourner Truth
While at the Van Wagenen’s home, Bell’s love for the Lord ignited. She experienced a spiritual awakening and changed her name to Sojourner Truth shortly after. Soujourner felt led to preach the gospel of true Christianity, which included seeing black people as children made in the image of God rather than property used for monetary gain. She became a missionary for the gospel, speaking against slavery.
Advocate for Change
Sojourner Truth became an outspoken activist to not only end slavery but she fought for women’s rights as well. She traveled across the country denouncing slavery and admonishing white men and women to join the fight. She wrote many speeches, including “Ain’t I A Woman,” and her work was published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard.
Later in life, she settled in Battle Creek, where she was instrumental in recruiting African American men in the Union Army. Sojourner Truth worked tirelessly in Washington, D.C., to support Black refugees. She also fought to help employ freed Black Americans after the war. Even in her old age, her efforts to reconcile women of all races continued.
Despite her beginnings, Sojourner Truth knew who she was in Christ and fought to ensure Black people understood their worth as well. God blessed her path by providing allies, like the Van Wagenens, to come alongside her in her tireless efforts to abolish slavery.
She felt compelled to join forces with white Christians and urged them to examine their own values and prejudices.
“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together out 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.”
Let us continue Sojourner’s legacy and join our sisters and brothers of all races to fight for justice and work “to turn it back and get it right side up again.”
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for women like Sojourner Truth, who were unafraid to hold Christians accountable. Give us the strength and courage to do the same. Amen.
Notes and Resources
- Read this post to learn why we care about Christian women in military history.
- Read our Women of the Word Wednesday posts here!
- You can find more WOTWW content on our Deeply Rooted Podcast
- Sojourner Truth – NATIONAL ABOLITION HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM
- Her History | Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee
- Black History for White People: Sojourner Truth