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Sojourner Truth, a woman of substance

Updated on September 25, 2013

A slave reborn

In the film 'Jesus' directed by Roger Young, actor Jeremy Sisto (who plays Christ) is asked " What is the Truth? " I cannot say if I have ever been certain of the answer myself. I have contemplated the meaning of truth in my own life; visiting my own experiences as they come and go; searching for truth when I feel the great weight of apprehension. I have known anxiety well. At times it was my worst friend. Sojourner named herself Truth. She took this name as her surname. It was a name that told her story, exposing the cruel realities of slavery as an institution formed out of dishonest financial motives. I highly regard her place in American History. She is a survivor of the worst evil who lived on in spite of all she endured for no purpose other than to give hope to other people.

She was born in the last part of the 18th century. Born a slave she was sold several times. She was a woman who had given birth to 13 children. Every single one of her children were taken from her and sold into slavery. Her last owners were a family with the surname Wagener.

Slavery has a long history. It has existed since ancient times. It still exists today. North Africans captured Christians as slaves and sold them to tribes to the south. Pirates captured slaves and forced them into maritime forms of slavery. Sometime around 1440 a sea captain from Portugal traded three men of Moors stock for 10 black Africans. The Africans were taken hostage and brought back to Europe.

In twenty years 1,000 slaves had been taken by the Portuguese. The slave trade of Africans expanded and the Portuguese began selling slaves to Spain. By 1505 African slaves were being sent across the ocean to the new Spanish colonies. Eventually the English learned this to be profitable. In 1619 around 20 African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Virginia.

Another group, the Irish were captured and sold as slaves as well. The first shipment of Irish slaves came to Jamestown in 1625. These were bonded persons. They could have been from debtors prisons as many white slaves were or they were political prisoners. In 1649 many more Irish prisoners of war were sold into slavery. This continued well into the 1650's. Slavery began as an act of enforced indentured bondage. Over time it evolved into a more violent and vile institution.

By 1715 there would be over 100,000 slaves in the new English colonies and the trade continued for two more centuries. More than 10 million Africans would be forced across the Atlantic. Gradually, movements toward ending slavery surfaced around the world. The French abolished slavery and then it was reintroduced. Wilbur Force lead the Brits to end slavery in England. It was abolished by the house of Commons in 1833. When New York State abolished the practice in 1827 Sojourner Truth was set free. Many slaves in remote areas of the state were kept in bondage long after the law allowed. However, Sojourner's owners bought her and set her free.

In the 1840's she became a unique and powerful voice in the American abolitionist movement. Her speaches moved whites against slavery and gave hope to the poor and needy. As we all know, slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 by the 13th Amendment to our Constitution. We replaced in with share-cropping. The Spanish continued the slave trade well into the 1880's to support the sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

I cannot imagine the courage Sojourner Truth must have had. It certainly must have come from God himself. It was most uncommon for a woman to preach in those days let alone a woman of color; a former slave. I am sure critics tried to discourage her. They must have. Sojourner continued to preach and travel far and wide spreading the words of Jesus Christ and giving hope to many people. She became one of the first Civil Rights leaders. The United States government acknowleged her greatness and gave her an appointed position as counselor to former slaves in Washington, D.C. This amazing woman died in 1883. I will forever think of her as a great woman of truth.

By Joanne Kathleen Farrell


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