Sojourner Truth: abolitionist and predecessor to Rosa Parks

Quick - who was that African-American woman who one day grew tired of segregation laws and forced public transportation to give her a seat?

If you answered Rosa Parks, you're right. But if you answered Sojourner Truth, well, you're also right. Though it is rarely discussed, she fought for the desegregation of public transportation - half a century before Rosa Parks was born.

Sojourner Truth (c. 1797- 1883), was the name used by Isabella Baumfree, born a slave in New York. She became free in 1828 under a New York law that banned slavery.

In 1843, she experienced what she regarded as a command from God to preach. She took the name Sojourner Truth and began lecturing in New York. Her early speeches were based on the belief that people best show love for God by expressing love and concern for others. However, she soon began directing her speeches toward the abolition of slavery.

Sojourner Truth, the first black woman to speak out so publicly against slavery, became one of the best-known abolitionists of her day. She traveled widely through New England and the Midwest on lecture tours, where her deep voice, quick wit, six-foot stature, and inspiring faith helped spread her fame.

In 1864, Sojourner Truth visited President Abraham Lincoln in the White House. She stayed in Washington and fought to improve working conditions for blacks. She also helped find jobs and homes for slaves who had escaped from the South.

One day during the Civil War, Sojourner Truth was so fed up with the indignities of segregation on public transportation that she brought a local street car to a standstill. A driver had refused her passage, but with the support of the crowd, she forced the driver to give her a ride. This incident led to the integration of Washington's transportation system.

However, Sojourner Truth is most remembered for a speech she gave at a women's rights convention where she noticed no one was addressing the rights of black women. Her speech, in part: "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages ... nobody ever helps me ... I have plowed and planted ... And ain't I a woman?"

Compiled from news wires by Sara Steindorf

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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