It is rarely discussed, but Sojourner Truth fought for the desegregation
of public transportation in Washington, DC during the Civil War. She refused
to face the indignities of Jim Crow segregation on street cars and had
the Jim Crow car removed from the Washington D. C. system. Sojourner Truth
brought a local street to a standstill when a driver refused her passage.
With the support of the crowd she forced the driver to carry her. During
her legendary life, she challenged injustice wherever she saw it. She was
an abolitionist, women's rights activist and preacher.
Born into slavery (as Isabella Baumfree) in upstate New York, Sojourner Truth
obtained her freedom and moved to New York City. There she began to work
with organizations designed to assist women. She later became a traveling
preacher and quickly developed a reputation as a powerful speaker. A turning
point in her life occurred when she visited the Northhampton Association
in Massachusetts. The members of this association included many of the
leading abolitionists and women's rights activists of her time. Among these
people Sojourner Truth discussed issues of the day and as a result of these
discussions became one of the first people in the country to
link the oppression
of black slaves with the oppression of women.
As a speaker, Sojourner Truth became known for her quick wit and powerful
presence. She would never be intimidated. Because of her powerful speaking
ability, independent spirit and her six foot frame, she was often accused
of being a man. She ended that in Silver Lake, Indiana when she exposed
her breast to the audience that accused her.
Sojourner Truth lived a long and productive life. She spoke before Congress
and two presidents. Sojourner Truth is best remembered for a speech she
gave at a women's rights conference where she noticed that no one was addressing
the rights of Black women. Her address reads in part: "Dat man ober
dar say dat womin needs to be helped over carriages, and lifted ober dicthes
and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody eber helps me into carriages,
or ober muddpuddles, or bigs me any best place. And ain't I a woman? Look
at me Looka at me arm. I have ploughes and planted and gathered into barns,
and no mand could head me! And ain't I a woman."