BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Abolitionist icon and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth made southwest Michigan her home in the late 18th century. As Black History Month draws to a close, we’re marking her living legacy in the city she called home.
Truth was born Isabelle Hardenberg in 1797, a slave in Usher County, New York. In the early 1800s, she was auctioned off with some sheep for $100. In 1826, she walked away from the plantation where she was enslaved under conditions she would earn her freedom. She changed her name and became a wandering evangelist. She was then invited to Battle Creek by a group of radical abolitionist Quakers called the Friends of Human Progress.
It was there, said Kimberley Holley, the director of the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek, that Truth found her home.
“Whatever happened, whatever it was about Battle Creek, she decided to relocate here the next year,” Holley said.
Using Battle Creek as a base, Truth continued her travels, primarily to and from speaking engagements, even traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet then President Abraham Lincoln.
“She gained notoriety as a completely illiterate black woman, meeting the president and talking to Union soldiers at the height of the Civil War,” Holley said. “When you think about the time period and who she was, her background, without having any education, what she was able to accomplish just by sheer determination and courage and wit, it’s really phenomenal.”
Truth was the first African-American woman to defeat a man in a lawsuit. She was also a copyright holder, selling images of herself for profit to help keep her journey alive.
Today, her work lives on through civic engagement at the Sojourner Truth Institute.
“We recently adopted a youth social justice program,” Holley said Wednesday. “We’re really excited about what it looks like to create this next generation of change agents using Sojourner Truth as inspiration, as a model.”
“We will continue to do our best to live up to her mission and her activism today,” she added.
To find more information or learn how to get involved, you can go to the Sojourner Truth Institute’s website.