Narrative of Sojourner Truth eText - eText

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What is a literary classic and why are these classic works important to the world?

A literary classic is a work of the highest excellence that has something important to say about life and/or the human condition and says it with great artistry. A classic, through its enduring presence, has withstood the test of time and is not bound by time, place, or customs. It speaks to us today as forcefully as it spoke to people one hundred or more years ago, and as forcefully as it will speak to people of future generations. For this reason, a classic is said to have universality.

While most information about individual slaves in the South is unknown, lost, or has been deliberately concealed, Sojourner Truth was a slave in New York State, and there are meticulous records detailing her life, in addition to those in her Narrative. She was born a slave in 1797, named Isabella Baumfree, and then sold three times to different masters before she was fifteen.

Brutal conditions, a forced marriage, and an owner who originally promised her freedom but then reneged caused Isabella to escape in 1826, taking only her infant. A firm believer in right and wrong, she said about her decision to escape, “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.” Her moral principles also dictated that she leave her four other children until they earned their own emancipation by working. While she was living with a Quaker family, New York gave all its slaves their freedom. At about this time, Isabella became a committed Christian and took the name Sojourner Truth.

She began traveling, preaching the Bible, and speaking out forcefully against slavery and for the rights of women. During this period, she met and worked closely with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, among other abolitionists. During the Civil War, she worked tirelessly for the Union cause, even meeting President Lincoln.

Truth was one of the first feminists, and her 1851 speech, Ain't I a Woman, became a rallying cry for equal rights for women, even into the twentieth century.

Until her health began to fail, Sojourner Truth also helped former slaves settle in the West. She developed ulcers on her legs, which weakened her considerably and contributed to her death at the age of 86.