Honoring Legacy: NYS Declares Sojourner Truth Day

Photo Courtesy of Biographies.com

On March 26 in Kingston NY, New York State Legislators passed a bill which declared Nov. 26 as Sojourner Truth Day across the state of New York. 

Sojourner Truth was a local and national hero, born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Ulster County. She escaped slavery in 1826 with her infant daughter and went on to become a prominent abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, evangelist and author. She died in 1883 after a life of important contributions to these movements.

Upon escaping slavery, Truth became the first Black woman to sue a white man and win in 1828, when the man who formerly enslaved her tried to sell her son Peter, despite the passing of the New York Anti-Slavery Law. She then moved to New York City, where she involved herself within the church and became an outspoken preacher. She met abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison through the church, who inspired her to speak on the issue of slavery in her speeches. This increased her popularity, and although she did not know how to read or write, she was able to produce an autobiography with the assistance of Olive Gilbert in 1850, titled “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.” The publication of this book gained her a greater level of notoriety throughout the nation.

After the success of her book, Truth was acquainted with women’s rights advocates Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, as well as leaders of the temperance movement, and was inspired to include these themes in her speeches. This led her to speak at a women’s convention in Ohio where she delivered her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, which captivated audiences and was important in forwarding the women’s rights movement. Overall, her work played a large role in the abolition of slavery and in women’s suffrage. She also provided a lot of assistance in gaining formerly enslaved people access to jobs and government assistance.

To this day, Truth’s “courage as a fighter for justice, equality and freedom continues to galvanize a new generation of leaders,” said State Senator Michelle Hinchey, who sponsored the Sojourner Truth Day bill alongside Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha. 

“Among these trailblazers is the Kingston YMCA Youth Crew, whose impassioned call to action sparked our bill to establish Sojourner Truth Day as an annual observance in New York,” Hinchey said.

“The story of Sojourner Truth and her historic lawsuit against white slave owners is integral to the history of Ulster County, and it didn’t make sense that while New York commemorates Truth’s peers, she herself was not officially commemorated on the calendar,” added Shrestha. 

“The Assembly doesn’t pass many commemoration bills, but we were able to successfully make a case that this one is special.”

The Sojourner Truth Day bill passed the Assembly and Senate on April 1. Before it becomes law, it will require the signature of Gov. Kathy Hochul, which would ensure that Truth’s legacy can continue to shine on.