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Picture of Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth -- whose given name was Isabella Baumfree -- was a civil rights activist born in Ulster County, New York. Her given surname meant "tall as a tree," which was appropriate -- she grew to be 6 feet tall.

Born into a family of 12 children, Baumfree grew up watching slavery separate her family. She was passed on to many masters throughout New York state as a house slave and learned to speak standard English instead of the usual slave idiom. Baumfree claimed that she talked to God quite often, which inspired her to go out and spread His word throughout the countryside.

In the 1840s abolitionists convinced Baumfree to work with them to end slavery. She used her oratorical skills and God's "inner inspiration" to deliver the message that slavery should be ended. This inspired her to take the name "Sojourner Truth" because she said God told her to be a sojourner on the earth and to tell the truth. She often wore a white banner urging the beholder to "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all inhabitants thereof."

Both before and after the Emancipation Proclamation, Sojourner Truth remained a fervent black rights activist. She urged freedmen to educate themselves and pressed for rehabilitation of former slaves on Western U.S. soil. She also urged President Abraham Lincoln to call northern freed blacks to arms for the Union and nursed Civil War prisoners, escaped blacks and freedmen.

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