A former slave, a transient, Truth became an outspoken advocate for abolition, temperance, and women’s and civil rights in the 19th century. Her work in the Civil War earned her an invitation to meet President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
Truth was born Isabella Bomfree, a slave in Dutch-speaking Ulster County, New York in 1797. She was bought and sold four times, and subjected to harsh physical labor and violent punishment. As a teenager, he married another slave with whom he had five children, beginning in 1815. In 1827, a year before the New York slave-freeing law went into effect, the truth escaped with his little Sophia. to a nearby abolitionist family, the employees of the van. The family bought her freedom for twenty dollars and helped Truth successfully sue for the return of her five-year-old son Peter, who was illegally sold into slavery in Alabama.
Truth moved to New York City in 1828, where he worked for a local minister. In the early 1830s, she participated in the religious revivals that were sweeping the state and became a charismatic orator. In 1843, she declared that her spirit called her to preach the truth, renaming herself a pilgrim of truth.
as an itinerant preacher, truth met abolitionists william lloyd garrison and frederick douglass. Garrison’s anti-slavery organization encouraged Truth to give speeches on the evils of slavery. he never learned to read or write. In 1850, he dictated what would become his autobiography, The Traveler’s Narrative of Truth, to Olive Gilbert, who assisted in its publication. truth survived on sales of the book, which also earned him national recognition. He met women’s rights activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as temperance advocates, both causes he quickly championed.
In 1851, Truth began a speaking tour that included a women’s rights conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous “Am I not a woman?” speech. In it, she challenged prevailing notions of racial and gender inequality and inferiority by reminding listeners of her combined strength (actually she was almost six feet tall) and her womanhood. The truth eventually parted ways with Douglass, who believed that suffrage for formerly enslaved men should come before suffrage for women; she thought that both should occur simultaneously.
during the 1850s, truth settled in battle creek, michigan, where three of her daughters lived. she continued to speak nationally and helped slaves escape to freedom. When the civil war began, Truth urged young people to join the union cause and organized supplies for black troops. After the war, she was honored with an invitation to the White House and became involved with the Freedmen’s Bureau, helping freed slaves find work and build a new life. While she was in Washington, DC, she lobbied against segregation, and in the mid-1860s, when a streetcar driver violently tried to prevent her from riding, she secured her arrest and won the subsequent case of she. In the late 1860s, she collected thousands of signatures on a petition to provide former slaves with land, though Congress never took action. Nearly blind and deaf towards the end of her life, Truth spent her last years in Michigan.