Sojourner Truth, Part 3 of 3

Sojourner Truth, Part 3 of 3

By Dianne D. McDonnell

Who first protested blacks being required to sit in the back of a bus or train? If you guessed Rosa Parks you are about 100 years too late! Sojourner Truth publicly protested riding in the back of trains many years before the Civil War!

But Isabella, i.e. Sojourner Truth, never advocated violence. When she and the famous Frederick Douglass were speaking at the same meeting, Douglass, also a former slave, began to drift into proposing violence as a means of freeing slaves. The crowd was churning with this potent poison and about to erupt into action when Sojourner Truth arose, standing very erect to all six feet of her height, and in a deep, booming voice she asked the younger man, “Frederick, is God dead?” The meeting went silent, and then again grew calm. She averted what could easily have become a blood bath that hurt the cause of freedom for the salves. Frederick Douglass never again advanced violence.

Such was the strong spirit and commanding presence of this amazing former slave who spoke forcefully, enthusiastically, and with “flint-like common sense” whether she was speaking as an orator, evangelist or advocate of a woman’s right to vote. While brave, she also had great humility and a sense of humor. Once a white man told her that her speeches were no more important than a flea bite. She replied, “Maybe not, but the Lord willing, I’ll keep you scratching.” (from

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote “Sojourner Truth, The Libyan Sibyl” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and managed to shine a bright light into the dark reality of slavery. These two historic books affected the opinions of many northern and southern Americans in the turbulent pre-war years of the 1850’s and early 1860’s. It also widened the fame and influence of Sojourner Truth.

`Baptized by Sabbath-keeping Uriah Smith, Sojourner Truth had the fiery fervor of an evangelist and the backbone of steel to do the job. One night she faced an unruly mob of about 100 young men armed with clubs who had disrupted an outdoor Adventist meeting and then gathered at a nearby hill. After a silent prayer, she had walked bravely in the moonlight to the assembled ruffians and stood among them singing a hymn and songs she had written. She began speaking saying, “Well, there are two congregations on this ground. It is written that there shall be a separation, and the sheep shall be separated from the goats. The other preachers have the sheep. I have the goats. And I have a few sheep among my goats, but they are very ragged.” The men laughed and were curious at this lone black woman among white men with clubs. They asked for more and more from the “old woman” as they called her. With their help she climbed up on a wagon and with humor, preaching and singing she reached the hearts of the young rioters. Finally she persuaded them to leave the Adventist meeting ground. They ran off in a mass like bumblebees to the utter amazement of the other very frightened Adventist preachers and listeners only a short distance away.

When the Civil War came in 1864 she helped recruit black soldiers, and had a personal meeting with President Abraham Lincoln. After the war was over, many blacks didn’t know how to continue their lives or provide for themselves and their families. It was a time of confusion as they adjusted their lives to finding ways to earn money, learning how to buy and sell, and how to deal with freedom. Sojourner helped many of them, and she led a movement to aid many former slaves as they moved West to resettle and begin new lives.

She died November 26, 1883 and her age is estimated from 86 t0 105 since no record was made of her birth into slavery in rural New York. But God knows her exact age and all the accomplishments of Sojourner Truth! Surely, the last shall be first.

You and I who can read and write, and have known education, family and freedom all of our lives—what are we doing with the wealth of God’s Truth we know? Are we making anybody “itch”? Are we finding ways to speak out or to help those who need us? If she could do all this, isn’t there something each one of us can do—with God’s Help, Strength and Power?

Dianne McDonnell is the founder of Freedom Ministry.

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