Sojourner Truth

Honored by:The African American Studies Program
Brick location:PAVER:14  map

The African American Studies Program at Iowa State University is proud to commemorate the lives of Sojourner Truth Ida B. Wells and Bessie Smith. These women shaped the political cultural and social life of the U.S.; we hope that their lives and legacies will be an inspiration to all.

c. 1799-1883

Isabella Bomefree was born in 1799 in Ulster County, New York State. Like her parents, James and Elizabeth Bomefree, and her siblings, she was a slave and was owned by several different families as a child and a young adult. She grew to be a tall, strong, young woman who was known for her intelligence and hard work. Around 1815, Isabella married a man named Thomas who was also a slave and together they had five children. In 1827, New York state abolished perpetual slavery. In that year, Isabella learned that her youngest child, Peter, had been illegally sold into slavery in Alabama. Although she could not read or write, Isabella retained a lawyer and successfully sued for her son's return. Isabella moved to New York City in 1829, where she became involved with reform work and was associated with a religious commune for several years. After the commune broke up in the mid-1830s, Isabella felt called to preaching. In June 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began preaching her message of God's love. Her travels took her from New York to Massachusetts to Indiana. As she preached, Sojourner Truth also spoke out against slavery and for racial justice and women's equality. Her speeches and sermons made her famous. In a speech at a women's rights meeting in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, she asserted that women of all classes and all races should receive equal treatment; it was in this speech that she delivered the famous lines 'And a'n't I a woman?" At an and-slavery meeting in 1858, an angry crowd taunted her, claiming that she must be a man because no woman could speak as well as she. Sojourner Truth silently bared her breasts, shaming her tormentors and proving to them that an African-American woman was capable of speaking in defense of her rights. Sojourner Truth was a colleague of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. She became known for her peaceful approach to abolition and her hope for divine justice. When Frederick Douglass advocated a violent end to slavery, she replied "Frederick, is God dead?" In the late 1850s, Sojourner Truth moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where she continued to work on behalf of women's rights and abolition. When the Civil War began, she worked in Washington, D.C., helping African-American refugees who had fled slavery find homes and work. After the war, she took up the cause of helping freed people settle in the western U.S. She also continued her women's rights activities and work for the franchise. In 1872, she attempted to register to vote in Michigan, claiming that the Fourteenth Amendment gave her this right. Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek in 1883.


Paver Inscription:

"African American
Sojourner Truth
Ida B. Wells
Bessie Smith"