Learn the Truth About Sojourner Truth!
Truth is powerful and it prevails. -Sojourner Truth
We don’t know exactly when Sojourner Truth was born. But we know she lived an extraordinary life as a women’s right activist, pacifist, and anti-slavery advocate.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York around 1797. She was given the name Isabella Baumfree at birth and originally spoke only Dutch.
At nine, she learned English. She spoke English with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.
Somewhere around 1827, she walked off with her daughter to freedom. In 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth. She made it her life’s mission to travel and speak the truth.
She traveled throughout the country speaking truth to power. In 1851, Truth first delivered the powerful and famed “Ain’t I A Woman” speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention.
And ironically, the truth about famous speech is that it had been re-written in 1863 by a white abolitionist. And when this woman re-wrote the speech, she changed a lot of it.
So you could say this famous version wasn’t exactly truthful. The 1863 version not only changed Sojourner Truth’s words, it changed her accent.
Remember, Sojourner spoke with a Dutch accent. However, the person who re-wrote it thought the speech would resonate better with a Southern slave accent.
The re-writer not only changed the accent, she changed the words, too. She thought her re-written words would serve the truth better than what Sojourner Truth actually said.
Today, we consider this behavior unethical. Sojourner Truth didn’t read and write. She relied on writers and journalists to capture her words accurately.
The woman who re-wrote the speech? She failed Truth: in more ways than one.
Fortunately, another writer collaborated with Truth. He captured her original words as best he could with the tools he had at the time. Historians consider this version to be closest to what Truth actually said.
The truth is that both versions of the speech are a part of American history. When you study re-written version, you can learn about America’s history of erasing the original works of black and women creators. And when you study the original version, you can get insights into Truth herself.
The Smithsonian Magazine recognizes Sojourner Truth as one of the most significant Americans of all time. She was also the first African American woman to have a statue in the Capitol building.
It may take time. It may take work. But like Sojourner Truth said:
"Truth is powerful and it prevails."