chapter
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Introduction

Sojourner Truth’s bravery, vision, and struggle during her nearly 40 years of social justice activism helped to end slavery, desegregate public transportation, achieve racial uplift for blacks, and secure voting rights for women. She was born in 1797 and died in 1883. She only began to pursue her mission at the age of 47, and worked tirelessly until she turned 81. Th e powerful spirituality and courageous determination that buoyed her along in the second half of her life were forged in the crucible of her earlier enslavement. She was born a northern slave in Dutch speaking Ulster County, New York; in 1826 she was emancipated aft er she stole away from the home of her master and found her liberator, a local abolitionist. For the next 17 years she worked as a domestic in New York City, learned English, and experimentally joined a number of religious denominations. She even spent time as a member of a short-lived religious cult now known as the Kingdom of Matthias. During those years she was known by her slave name Isabella. When “the Spirit call[ed]” her in 1843, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth and set forth on foot to pursue a mission to preach. Months later, she settled into a utopian community called the Northampton Association for Education and Industry in Northampton, Massachusetts. Living among the radical abolitionists, the focus of her mission shift ed from religion to social justice, but her underlying spiritual calling remained the same. At the Northampton Association she met and befriended many activists, including William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. Sojourner Truth spoke prophetically to a nation as she advocated powerfully for abolition, women’s suff rage, the resettlement of emancipated blacks, and the desegregation of the Washington D.C. public streetcar system.