Isabella Baumfree was the birth name of Sojourner Truth. She was born to James and Betsy, both slaves of Colonel Ardinburgh in Ulster County, New York. At the age of nine she was sold for $100 to John Nealy. Here she experienced frequent and brutal beating. Isabella only spoke Dutch, as she had been taught by the Ardinburgh family and the Nealys were infuriated each time Isabella did not follow directions. She was bought for $105 by a fisherman named Scriver. Isabella spent about a year and half with his family before being sold to the Dumonts. Here Isabella wanted to please the Dumont family very much because here she "married" Thomas and had five children.
Dumont used the excuse of a diseased hand not to give Isabella her freedom on July 4, 1827, as outlined in the New York Emancipation Act of 1827 (7). She took flight with her infant son and was given sanctuary at the home of the Van Wagener's. While living here Isabella's son Peter was illegally sold South. She became the first black woman to sue a white man and win! She was a truly courageous woman.
The depressed economy of the late 1830s and forties made Isabella aware of the lack of respect people had for each other. The poor were not only ill served by the rich but by each other. She also felt she could contribute much more to society. On June 1,1843 Isabella took the name Sojourner (wander or traveler) Truth and left New York to preach truth to all people. She believed that this was her God given mission in life. Sojourner Truth dedicated her life to reform. She championed equal rights, women's rights, and post Civil War housing for freed people. Sojourner's wit and charm allowed her to speak out on the highly heated issue of how to assist the adaptation of freed blacks in a white, highly prejudicial, society. The 'wanderer of truth' never allowed fear to paralyze her ability to effect change.
To understand the incredible odds Sojourner Truth overcame in our society we must visit the hearts of young characters our students can identify with. Minna is a young girl kidnapped in Africa and forced into slavery here in America, in the story,
Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family
. She herself never escaped the bonds of slavery, but takes solace in the fact that two of her children escape to freedom. Equally powerful are the images created by
. The narrator is a young boy who dreams that the wagon he has helped build will be his chariot to freedom. The story also deals with the eventual liberation of the enslaved.
Once both these stories unfold try to have students identify a moment when they felt very scared. Next ask them to try to remember how wonderful it felt when they weren't scared any longer. Many new stories will emerge. Allowing each student a chance to share at some point during the week will assist them in understanding the meaning of liberation.
Sojourner is now ready to enter. She can share with your students the greatness of her will and her ability to overcome fear. Each time Sojourner passes her hand towards an open door or window the children will join in the chant:
Run, Run to courage and truth together they will set you free.
The power of slogans and ads is only too prevalent in our image rich society. Educators are aware of the popular children's television and video heroes on a daily basis. Dismissing their impact by banning or ignoring them will only add to their popularity. If however we consciously introduce strong, positive and uplifting individuals ,with catchy chants, and child centered messages, we will give our students a more diverse pool of role models from which to choose.
a storytelling by
Mary Stewart Bargar
I was born a slave. I will always remember the pain in my heart the day I was sold and had to leave my parents. I was nine years old. Although I worked very hard the people that bought me were very mean to me. I dreamed of my father rescuing me from this awful place. If I ran away I would be caught and punished. I never stopped believing I could RUN, RUN TO COURAGE AND TRUTH TOGETHER THEY WOULD SET ME FREE, and so I did.
I worked harder and longer each day. And I dreamed of someday being set free, with a home for my family. For many years I held onto this dream. I married and had five children, still we were slaves and still I believed RUN, RUN TO COURAGE AND TRUTH TOGETHER THEY WOULD SET ME FREE.
In 1827 New York passed an emancipation act. It did not free all slaves, only those that had performed a certain number of years of work. I struck an agreement with the family that owned me on the date of my emancipation. During this time I hurt my hand. My owners said I could not finish my work and therefore would not be set free. I knew that I worked harder then three people. I also knew they did not want me to be free. I knew what to do RUN, RUN TO COURAGE AND TRUTH TOGETHER THEY WOULD SET ME FREE.
I ran to the Van Wagner's home. They did not believe in slavery. When my owner arrived the Van Wagner's paid for my services and my infant daughter for one year. This gave me the time I needed to not only work off my debt, but gain my permanent freedom. I spent the rest of my life as Sojourner Truth preaching the rights of all people and the need for equality between woman and men. No matter how hard my life was I knew to RUN, RUN TO COURAGE AND TRUTH TOGETHER THEY WOULD SET ME FREE. AND THEY DID.