Historical Significance and Leadership of Sojourner Truth
Since the early twentieth Century, Sojourner Truth has been rated by a number of studies as among the prominent African Americans who have contributed to the rich history of the United States. Indeed, volumes of scholarly journals (Caroll, 1985; Redding, 1971) on America’s history have been adorned by her civil image and feminist character in the campaign against violation of women’s rights and slavery. Throughout her advocacy life, Truth will be remembered for having played a key role in raising funds for Black Union soldiers. Majority of feminist / black North Americans recognize her.
Although her words are full of inspiration, her deeds have been overlooked in modern studies. Nonetheless, her name conveys a deeper sense of meaning despite being forgotten by a good number of her contemporaries’ (Sterling, 1984). While the reputation of historic icons from the Negro population have not survived the nineteenth century (particularly those associated with illiteracy and poverty), the memory of Sojourner’s deeds still endures. In view of her illiteracy, it is encouraging to acknowledge that her works as recorded by other people constitute her fame and power.
Solidly engrossed to the evangelical life of northern antebellum in the United States, Sojourner, she remains an emblem of a phenomenon frequently associated with history in the twentieth century: popularity (Sterling, 1984). This paper examines her contribution to the United States. Between 1840 and 1850, Truth had commenced to forge a reputation at women’s rights and anti-slavery meetings. By the late 1850s, her achievements had been merited in the narrative of Sojourner Truth (Brawdy, 1991). In essence, she forms the foundation of truth as described severally in different bibliographies and studies (Smith, 1950; Edwards, 1986).
In her speech at a women’s meeting convention held at Ohio in 1851, her rhetoric ideologies never appeared emblematic not until the late 1970s. The gist of her remarks began to be captured by numerous newspaper accounts—that women were entitled to equal rights as their male counterparts. Her famous quote as presented by Sterling (1984) is her lamentation and questioning about whether God existed at all. In her advocacy life, Sojourner’s reputation beyond women’s rights and abolitionist circles were amplified by Brawdy (1991).
To date, these studies have served as requisite ingredients in explicating Sojourner’s persona on a historical perspective. In a lengthy dialect description, Caroll (1985) mentions her preaching. In this respect, Truth emerges more of an ex-slave than an abolitionist. Albeit Edwards (1986) mentions that she is famous in radical abolitionist mainstream) and not a vigorous advocate of women’s rights. According to Redding (1971), Truth’s comment on women dressed in bloomers is ridiculing and deprecatory. On the other hand, Truth appears seemingly exotic from Brawdy’s (1991) sketch.
Outside the cultural mainstream, Truth appears as the most conspicuous preacher to have existed in ninetieth century America. As introduced by Edwards (1986), Truth is embodied with the temerity of brilliance. Contrastingly, this trait of Truth’s persona as revealed by Edwards (1986) is that of a pastoral, nineteenth century type that is exotic, savage and relatively different from the world of modernity. Some pioneers of the pre-colonial American history (such as Redding, 1971; Sterling, 1984) have commented on the attractiveness of American-based historical imaginations of earlier centuries.
Nevertheless, Truth consistently stands out in all studies as uneducated, charismatic and divinely inspired. Her ethnic and racial heritages are the basis of her genius character described by historians such as Caroll 1985 and Edwards (1986) as “romantic racialism” that is common among abolitionists. With time, Sojourner truth emerged as an emulative model that is not at all to be dismissed or patronized. Her final words—worth enduring—encumbered by her conspicuous influential presence, have been distilled into strength and truth: the power to delve to the center of a controversial subject with few, elaborate, carefully chosen sentiments.
As a feminist, abolitionist and evangelist, Sojourner truth (1797-1883) remains etched in the history of most Americans following her uneducated but vocal campaigns in solid support of the rights of slaves, women and victims of social injustices. Tales of Truth’s proactive and outspoken personalities, her unique styles of leadership, her act of displaying her breasts publicly to a crude, anxious audience that dared to challenge her womanhood, and the challenge she posed to Frederick Douglas on the subjects of slavery and violence, historically decors studies of her abolitionist lore (Edwards, 1986).
As described by Brawdy (1991), Truth’s powerful voice (graced with her Dutch-English accent), was amplified with her deep connection to religious convictions. Additionally, Sojourner’s personal magnetism, as attested by Smith (1950), claims that she is so far the only lady accredited to have been bestowed with the subtle power and influence to confront contradictory issues in the American history, notwithstanding the social implications of her actions. Though details of her lifetime remain sketchy and cloudy, she was born of poor, slave parents who resided in Ulster County. By then, she was known as Isabella and worked as a slave.
Her contributions to emancipation of oppressed minorities from social restraint dates were initiated by her successful elusion from slavery in 1827 (Smith, 1951). After moving to New York City, she embraced evangelical religion and actively engaged in moral reforms. Having joined the Utopian Community (which was mainly based in New York), she ventured in the preaching career, acquiring a great deal of Biblical knowledge. Her abolitionist policies were inscribed in her entertaining and highly instructive gospel songs that she sang as a wandering orator and famous platform figure.
A year before mandatory emancipation of slaves in New York City, Sojourner officially adopted the names “Sojourner Truth” in 1843. From Brawdy’s (1991) revelations, Truth proved to be a servant of the people during the Great Civil War. She collected clothing and food for displaced populations, tramping the isolated roads of Michigan. According to Edwards (1986), she was the first human rights activist to confront President Abraham Lincoln at White House, where she dedicated her life and mobilized resources to the service of freed persons. Truth’s extra-ordinary personality transcended her religious beliefs and obligations.
A few studies claim that during the Reconstruction Period, she resolved to sell her personal images, photographs of her shadows as well as the narratives of her personal life to support the integration and inclusion of freed slaves into the American society (Smith, 1951; sterling, 1985). Truth is also remembered for initiating a petition drive that sought to procure land for the settlement of freed slaves. In addition, her interpersonal attributes were lent to movements against the suffrage of women, to an extent of suggesting the opinion of establishing a “Black State “in the West.
Apart from dictating a number of letters that were pertinent to the question of landlessness which eventually gave rise to reconstruction, Truth consistently preached godliness and purity among the underrepresented and oppressed women. Moreover, Caroll (1985) also claims that Truth’s legacy rests on the contents of her language and tone. In actual sense, she was—and still—is an advocate of society’s liberty (especially women) with a concise and vocal epigraph, having stumped social sins from a country dominated by social inequities from different angles.
Admittedly, it is apparent that the objectives of a petition drive and political motives have not been comprehensively described by present-day activists as Sojourner did (Caroll, 1985). To mid ninetieth century readers and audiences, the character of Sojourner Truth appeared different from the characterization reflected in the late twentieth century. According to Smith (1951), her persona image changed somehow after the Civil War, albeit not completely, in view of her twentieth century personality. Prior to the Civil War, Sojourn Truth championed for the rights of women in general terms.
Her objective was to disseminate and sell copies of her calling cards and narratives, which were the primary sources of her livelihood. After settling in Washington, her life took a different twist after she sympathized with the pressing needs of freed slaves, who had turned out to southern refugees by then. Other than exploring means by which their relocation could be sought, she gathered courage to collect signatures for a settlement petition and lobbied for monetary aid to fund assistive services.
By the late nineteenth century, her quest for humanitarian sobriety heightened and she addressed the needs that were apparently urgent (Smith, 1951). After retiring from the lecture circuit in the late 1880s, her courage revitalized. Ideally, Sojourner’s version of truth as edited by Sterling (1984) gained currency. While white human rights advocates and anti-slavery movements found Sojourner’s character to be attractive and charming, a few blacks remained ambivalent about her antebellum achievements as a spokesperson of minorities, before an American pastoral of white audiences.
She is no longer sophisticated in presentations echoed by romantic racists. To date, Truth continues to represent as self-made model with extra-ordinary abilities. In addition, she is the foundation on the need to re-establish an American history that is simultaneously sensitive to gender, race and class distinctions. On the other hand, her controversial claims at one time placed her in a rather awkward position contrary to that of State echelons.
For this reason, she was physically assaulted when she publicly denounced racism while championing or equal treatment for all (Edwards, 1986). In light of the successes and shortcomings that featured her philanthropic life she succumbed to ulcers in 1883 after enduring the pains of an ulcerated leg for ten years. Remarkably, Truth’s funeral procession at Battle Creek remains the largest ever witnessed in the burial of United States’ iconic figures, serving as a true testimony of her influence to the historical imagination of the United States (Carol, 1985, Edwards, 1986).