12. Sojourner Truth changed her named to reflect her mission of spreading the message of equality across the United States
When you remember that English was not her first language, and that she was denied a proper education as a child, Sojourner Truth’s achievements seem all the more remarkable. She was one of the most talented orators in American history. Huge crowds would come to hear her speak on a range of topics. But above all, she was known for telling her ‘truth’ on women’s rights and slavery. As well as being remembered as one of the country’s most significant feminist campaigners, she’s also been named as one of the ‘most significant Americans of all time’ – not bad for someone from such a lowly background.
Born into slavery with the name Isabella Baumfree in around 1797, she was passed around between owners as a girl and young woman. On one slave estate she met and married a fellow slave named Thomas. They had three children together. But, for legal reasons, Isabella took only the youngest, an infant daughter named Sophia, with her when she escaped to freedom in 1826. She managed to find work as a housekeeper in New York City. It was here where her Christian faith grew in strength. She became a Methodist. Though she had been raised in a Dutch-speaking community, she believed God had called her to spread His word. She took the name ‘Sojourner Truth’ in 1843, the year she left the city and headed out to preach.
As well as speaking out against the evils of slavery, Truth also advocated for women’s rights. In 1851, addressing a crowd in Akron, Ohio, she gave her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. This cemented her reputation as a passionate and persuasive speaker, and she put these skills to good use recruiting black soldiers for the Union Army. After the Civil War was over, she turned her attention to getting land for freed slaves to settle on and even met with President Ulysses S. Grant.
Truth carried on preaching into old age. She was notable for calling for equal rights for people of all colors and genders. She died in 1883, aged 86, and is remembered as a tireless and peerless campaigner for civil rights. Truth’s legacy lives on in America and many highways, schools and churches are named in her honor.