To be enslaved is to be property; to have no control over one’s well-being, life or destiny. A truly terrible fate for any human. However, when the enslaved are freed (or free themselves) they become something different both in circumstance and identity. Many emancipated Africans changed their names to forget or move on from their past, but some changed their name to redefine their very destiny. Isabella Baumfree as enslaved person had a particular relationship with the world, however, when she took her destiny into her own hands and liberated herself, she became Sojourner Truth. Truth changed her name as a way to shape and direct her destiny. Furthermore, as Truth, she not only worked tirelessly for the emancipation of African people but for women as well.
Baumfree was born at the end of the 18th century in upstate New York (Swartekill, in Ulster County New York), she was one of twelve children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree. For the most part, her family was kept together despite being enslaved until their captor Colonel Charles Hardenbergh passed away. When Hardenbergh died, his property (i.e., the Baumfree family) were all separated and sold off. Isabella (or Belle) was sold and resold a number of times throughout her adolescent years into her 20s. Over this time she also had a number of children. Most of her children were born of love, however, she did had one child that was the result of rape. When Belle eventually found freedom, she, as a liberated person, chose to change her identity, by extension this courageous act also changed her destiny. As a free and autonomous woman she chose to be Methodist in order to use the word of God against the peculiar institution of America - slavery. She claimed to have been touched by God, to have received a charge from the creator that required her to stand up against enslavement and oppression. To fulfill that charge she needed a fitting name that would define her destiny, for her the name “Sojourner Truth” fit her destiny quite neatly.
Religiously, Truth, like her peers, was a child of the 2nd Great Awakening. This period in American religious life and history was a very deliberate break from the Enlightenment period in that there was a focus on the supernatural and the movement of God in the world rather than submitting to rigid logic. In addition, this period in American religious history is critically important in that it is an era that saw the philosophical attempt to solidify America as a Christian nation. As well, it is a period in which the presence and power of women in American religion (and in society in general) gained important traction. In fact, this period represents the feminization of American religion. That is to say, that during this period women took more leadership positions in civil and religious organizations, they led worship and spoke publicly to large audiences, something unheard of in generations past. Truth’s presence was critically important in this movement and moment. She was invited to give talks all over the eastern seaboard and other parts of the American North, precisely because of her unique position as a formerly enslaved African American woman. To elucidate, perhaps one of the most intersectional and therefore impactful speeches Truth made was her famous speech: “Ain’t I A Woman?”. This speech was critically important specifically because it addressed the problem of intersectionality well before “intersectionality” was a thing to be seriously considered. Intersectionality of course, refers to the multiple social concerns that can and do impact particular groups of people. Truth as one who was helping to shape the future of social discourse, astutely reminded her readers and audiences that she, like many other women of African descent, had to deal with not only racism, but problems of sexism as well.
Further, this problem of sexism that Truth dealt with was not just centered on white men, it was meant to address the issues she dealt with in her experiences with Black men as well. Men across the color-line have and continue to show hostility to the presence of women. However, what is most telling about the problem of sexism (as well of racism) is that it gets its strength from religion. That is to say, religion was used to justify any and all forms of social restrictions. Men (and women) see God and Jesus, both male figures, as the examples of righteousness, while the presence and impact of woman is often marginalized and discounted, if not outright vilified. However, Truth bravely addressed this issue openly and often, challenging both men and women to rethink their social position. To illustrate, one particular day when Truth was being heckled by a man, she astutely stated: “Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” Truth’s social and political “clap-back” was strong, she spoke truth to power unapologetically and had a keen understanding of the contradictory dynamics of American life.
Truth was Black and a Woman equally. Meaning, she did not see a difference in the enslavement of African Americans and the subjugation of women, both were equally offensive and problematic. Accordingly, whenever she spoke publicly about the problem of enslavement, she would address issues relevant to women-folk. Connecting these issues was a brilliant tactic because she could easily draw parallels of the conditions of African Americans and women. Further, Truth did not simply direct her attention to just white men, instead, she constantly reminded Black man that just being a male was not enough to assume power over women. When addressing this issue, she stated: “You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.” She wanted to crush the notion that women were less-than for both white and black men, she refused subservience in all its forms.
Not only that, but she believed that the freedom of women was critical to the freedom of the entirety of humanity, and she used religion, well specifically Christianity, to push that notion. In one instance she states: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” Truth is of course referring to Eve. Knowing that Eve has a precarious position in Biblical history because of her run in with the serpent, she leans into that stigma reminding audiences of the power of women. Conversely, she also is quick to remind folks that the One the worship so fervently, Jesus, came through a feminine vessel. Truth argues: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” For the sexism that seems to be rampant in Christianity these not-so-subtle reminders are important for both men and women regardless of race or culture. Specifically, both men and women need to be reminded of a necessary balance that must exist between the sexes in order to secure any sort of substantive future for humanity.
The culmination of Truth’s work however is a keen understanding of balance. Balance in terms of the struggle that continues between Blacks and Whites as well as that between men and women. However, her most important gift to humanity is her appeal to the balance of human needs and belief. Truth believed that humanness – that essential stuff that make humanity unique – needed to coexist with religious belief, she states: “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.” I believe this sentence is a direct indictment of all forms of oppression whether they be racist or sexist. Having a belief system is all well-and-good, but to have any belief system without maintaining the needs of humanity - food, clothing, shelter and love - is a dead religion. Truth believed humanity was better than that because she believed better of herself. She always knew she was more than a slave and she always believed women were more that what they were told, she believed this because she understood her power both as a woman and as an African American.
 Margaret Washington. Sojourner Truth's America. University of Illinois Press, 2011,32-50.
 Barbara Welter, "The Feminization of American Religion: 1800–1860," in Clio's Consciousness Raised, edited by Mary S. Hartman and Lois Banner. (New York: Octagon Books, 1976), 141.
 Nell Irvin Painter. Sojourner Truth: A life, a symbol. (WW Norton & Company, 1996).
 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/200277.Sojourner_Truth. Accessed August 2019.
 20 Sojourner Truth Quotes: Honoring the Fight for Equality. https://everydaypower.com/sojourner-truth-quotes/. Accessed August 2019.