Born into slavery in New York around 1797, Isabella Baumfree experienced a religous conversion to Christianity and a (possibly controversial) call to public ministry. Although the northern state in which she was born participated in “gradual” emancipation, Isabella knew deep down that God set her free. She “told Jesus is would be alright if he changed [her] name.” Therefore Sojourner, one who walks about spreading the message of God’s word, took a new name based on a vision she received from God. She later added the name Truth as a symbol for freedom from oppression for African Americans and women.
In mid-August every year, people celebrate the legacy of Sojourner Truth’s storytelling and audacity “ignore limitations” such as race or gender in order to proclaim God’s goodness. In honore of Sojourner Truth, I read a book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by another poetic voice in the black female community, Maya Angelou. Written in 1969, Angelou bravely remembers stories of rape and racism from her childhood. A young woman growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou tells of her personal experiences with family, school and eventually maturity. About 150 years later Angelou writes about the indeciencies and inequalities against black women of which Sojourner Truth preached. Yet, both women maintained a sense of dignity in their story telling, in hopes of drawing injustice out of the dark shadows and into the light of goodness and in the hope of redemption. Similar to Sojourner’s journey to freedom of expression and equality, Angelou closes her book with a comment of the trails of black females,
“The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power.
The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence. It is seldom accapted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiatic acceptance.”
As the heat of August burns crops, oppressed the lungs and causes sweat to drip down the back of workers and mid-evening walkers, we remember the hardwork and suffering of African American women to overcome injustice. We also recognize the beauty witnessed through Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou and others to act in solidarity with oppressed men and women and teach them to become channels of God’s love and justice in order to re-shape society and the world.