Summary (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
At a time when the cooperation between white abolitionists and African Americans was limited, as was the alliance between the woman suffrage movement and the abolitionists, Sojourner Truth was a figure that brought all factions together by her skills as a public speaker and by her common sense. She worked with acumen to claim and actively gain rights for all human beings, starting with those who were enslaved, but not excluding women, the poor, the homeless, and the unemployed. Truth believed that all people could be enlightened about their actions and choose to behave better if they were educated by others, and persistently acted upon these beliefs.
Truth’s written narrative is one of many narratives presented to the public by abolitionists as proof against proslavery advocates’ claims that African Americans were content with slavery and incapable of caring for themselves. Her speeches were also an effective weapon against slavery and were especially successful in drawing crowds to antislavery meetings and opening eyes to the injustice and irrationality of slavery. Like other freed slaves, Truth was a primary witness who could testify to the real suffering of slaves as well as demonstrate to proslavery crowds that, contrary to popular belief, African Americans were thinking, feeling human beings. Sojourner Truth is considered, along with Harriet Tubman, to be one of the two most influential African American women of the nineteenth century. W. E. B. Du Bois conveyed the importance of her contribution best when he described Truth as “one of the seven who made American slavery impossible.”