Sojourner Truth was once told that if she dared to preach, the building where she spoke would be burned. The famous abolitionist responded, “Then I will speak to the ashes.”
You gotta love it.
This past weekend, actress Jennifer Goran and I encountered Sojourner Truth as we brought our “Meet the Vanishing Woman” program to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. (If you haven’t been to this museum, check it out. It’s one of the best museums in the country.)
When you enter the main plaza in the museum, you will find all kinds of wax figures–John Wilkes Booth, General Ulysses S. Grant, Frederick Douglass, and the entire Lincoln family. You can also find Sojourner Truth. The accompanying photograph shows Jenny flanked on either side by Sojourner Truth and fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Here is a crash course on Sojourner Truth:
- She was born a slave in 1797 in Ulster County, New York. Her original name was Isabella Baumfree.
- She escaped with her infant daughter in 1826 after her master went against his word and did not emancipate her.
- She had to leave behind other children, but when she found out that her five-year-old son Peter had been illegally sold to Alabama, she filed suit in court with the help of the Van Wagenen family. She won the case, becoming the first black woman to win a case against a white man.
- While living with the Van Wagenens, she had a dramatic conversion to faith. As she put it, “God revealed himself to her, with all the suddenness of a flash of lightning, showing her, in the twinkling of an eye, that he was all over, that he pervaded the universe, and that there was no place where God was not.”
- In her early years of faith, she latched onto an unusual sect, the Millerites, which predicted that Jesus would return in 1843.
- She then had another turning point in her faith, and she asked God for a new name. She said that God renamed her Sojourner “because I was to travel up and down the land, showing the people their sins, and being a sign unto them.” Next, she asked God for a second name, “and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.” So Sojourner Truth was born–or reborn.
- Sojourner died on November 26, 1883, at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 2009, she became the first black woman honored with a bust in the U.S. Capitol.
His Truth marches on.
By Doug Peterson