B2 High-Intermediate US 13 Folder Collection
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In early 1828, Sojourner Truth approached the Grand Jury of Kingston, New York.
She had no experience with the legal system,
no money, and no power in the eyes of the court.
Ignoring the jury's scorn,
Truth said she was there to fight for custody of her five-year-old son Peter,
who'd been illegally sold to an enslaver in Alabama.
As the trial played out over the next several months,
Truth raised funds, strategized with lawyers,
and held her faith.
Finally in the spring of 1828, Peter was returned to her care—
but Truth's work was far from over.
She would dedicate the rest of her life to pursuing justice
and spiritual understanding.
Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree
in the late 18th century in Ulster County, New York.
Although New York state had announced the abolition of slavery in 1799,
the emancipation act was gradual.
Those who were currently enslaved
were forced to serve a period of indentured servitude until their mid-20s.
Throughout this period, enslavers repeatedly sold Baumfree,
tearing her from her loved ones.
Often, she was explicitly prevented from pursuing new relationships.
Eventually, she married an enslaved man named Thomas,
with whom she had three children.
She was desperate to keep her new family together—
but the slow progress of abolition threatened this hope.
Baumfree's enslaver, John Dumont, had promised to free her by 1826.
When he failed to keep his word, Baumfree fled for her safety.
During the escape, she was only able to rescue her youngest daughter Sophia,
while her other children remained in bondage.
It would be two years before she regained custody of Peter.
After that, she would wait another two years
before she saw any of her other children.
During this time, Baumfree found solace in her faith
and became increasingly dedicated to religious reflection.
After settling in Kingston, New York,
she joined a Methodist community that shared her political views.
She continued her practice of speaking aloud to God in private,
and one night, her evening prayers took on even more sacred significance.
Baumfree claimed to hear the voice of God, telling her to leave Kingston,
and share her holy message with others.
Though she never learned to read or write,
Baumfree became known as an electrifying orator,
whose speeches drew on Biblical references,
spiritual ideals, and her experience of slavery.
Her sermons denounced the oppression of African Americans and women in general,
and became prominent in campaigns for both abolition and women's rights.
In 1843, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth
and embarked on a legendary speaking tour.
Truth saw her journey as a mission from God.
Her faith often led her to the nation's most hostile regions,
where she spoke to bigoted audiences as the only Black woman in the crowd.
Truth was confident God would protect her,
but some crowds responded to her bravery with violence.
During one of her sermons,
a mob of white mean threatened to set fire to the tent where she was speaking.
In her memoir, Truth recalled steeling herself to confront them:
“Have I not faith enough to go out and quell that mob…
I felt as if I had three hearts!
And that they were so large, my body could hardly hold them!”
She placated the men with song and prayer, until they had no desire to harm her.
Truth's speeches impacted thousands of people in communities across the nation,
but her activism went far beyond public speaking.
During the Civil War, she became involved with the Union Army,
recruiting soldiers and organizing supplies for Black troops.
Her work was so well regarded that she was invited to meet President Lincoln.
She took the occasion to argue that all formerly enslaved people
should be granted land by the government.
Truth continued to travel and speak well into her 80s.
Until her death in 1883, she remained an outspoken critic
who fought for her right to be heard in a hostile world.
As Truth once said, “I feel safe even in the midst of my enemies;
for the truth is powerful and will prevail."
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The electrifying speeches of Sojourner Truth - Daina Ramey Berry

13 Folder Collection
ally.chang published on April 29, 2020
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