Sojourner Truth’s original name is Isabella Baumfree, and  she actually lives for 86 years, before dying at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Her parents are slaves on a farm owned by a Dutchman in upstate New York – and her first language as a child is Dutch. After being sold four times, she marries and bears five children. In 1826, she escapes to freedom along with one child. She soon converts to the Millerite faith, which predicts the second coming of Christ to occur in 1843. On June 1 of that year, she changes her name to Sojourner Truth and declares the spirit calls me and I must go. Her calling is to preach on behalf of abolition and women’s rights. To sustain herself, she eventually sells photographs bearing the inscription I sell the shadow to support the substance. In 1851 she delivers her most famous speech at a Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio. It is titled Ain’t I A Woman and it calls for equality for all blacks and females alike. As with Douglass, her audiences are moved by her presence: when she arose to speak in their assemblies, her commanding figure and dignified manner hushed every trifler into silence.

Indeed, Frederick Douglass goes on to meet with Lincoln in August 1863, likely another turning point for the President in convincing him that free blacks could eventually make their way in American society.

Remarkable  father Samuel Berry and mother Miriam slaves on adjoining farms, kind masters, they marry and have 13 children, father buys their freedom via hard work, she gets “free papers” to carry, all move to Pa, to school at 8 with white kids, and learns to read and write, works for widow, parent’s house a station on Underground RR, marries first husband Calvin  Devine at 17 in Sept 1854, after near death delivery attends church revival and becomes dedicated Methodist, later writes of her conversion in detail, in ’62 buys freedom for a sister wrongfully declared a slave in Md, husband enlists and dies in the war, she remarries AME deacon  James Smith, marital troubles follow, they move to NYC, 3 brothers serve in war, joins Holiness Movement and claims sanctification in 1868, Smith dies in ’69, begins preaching and singing at church services, fame spreads, 12 years in UK, India, and Africa spreading her faith, back in Chicago ’92, opens orphanage, school for girls, publishes newspaper and her engaging autobiography in ’93, dies in Florida. 

Punishment for displeasing overseers was often harsh, as evident in this document dated August 2, 1852, from St. Mary’s County, Maryland. It records a court charge of $2.12-1/2 cent owed by H.G. Hayden for “inflicting stripes” (15 lashes) on his slave, Jno. Tracy.

Amanda Berry Smith ​(1837-1915)

Frederick Douglass emerges as the leading black proponent of abolition over the two decades between 1841 and the start of the Civil War. Douglass runs away from captivity in Maryland at age 20 and establishes a life for himself and his family in Massachusetts. His impromptu speech to an Anti-Slavery Society meeting on Nantucket in August 1841 connects him to the heroic white abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison, who hires him as a traveling lecturer and then publishes his life story in 1845. This  makes him a national figure from then on. 

Woman with facial scars common in sub-Saharan Africa and often denoting tribal affiliation, social status or rites of passage.

Slaves and white overseers mingle at an open air cotton market auction in Montgomery, Alabama

More cotton being harvested, in this case a stereoview from a plantation in Georgia


Adult Slaves (Continued)

Presumably a former slave with what appears to be a cataract in his right eye.

Douglass, however, is just one in a long series of black activists who fight the uphill battle from slavery to freedom and citizenship. The list includes: the businessmen, James Forten and Paul Cuffe; Prince Hall, founder of the African Freemason Lodges; early churchmen such as the Reverends Thomas Paul, Richard Allen, and Absalom Jones, followed later by Theodor Wright and Samuel Cornish; the activist David Walker, whose 1829 Appeal, cried out for justice; and others who followed on – Charles Raymond, David Ruggles, Robert Purvis, Louis Hayden, Martin Delaney, Martha Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, Henry Garnet, William Sill, Harriet Tubman, William and Ellen Craft, Frances Harper. Together these men and women devote their lives to reverse America’s original sin of slavery, Together they represent what Lincoln will refer to as the better angels of our nature.

Sojourner Truth, like Fred Douglass, has her life story published by Lloyd Garrison and becomes another famous speaker on behalf of abolition. The longhand script which appears under her image to the left belongs to the card owner and reads as follows: this colored lady was born a slave (and) never knew her parents; she died at the advanced age of 103 in Kansas, a devoted Christian.

Photography Book

Sojourner Truth

Heroic Black Abolitionists

Frederick Douglas

“Gordon” (sometimes called “Peter”) escapes from a Louisiana plantation in March 1863 covering his scent by rubbing raw onions into his body. He flees some 40 miles through swamps, reaching a Union camp at Baton Rouge. Before joining and fighting in the army, photographs are taken to capture the horrific scars on his back. He explains them saying: “Overseer Artayou whipped me. I was two months in bed sore…(until) my sense began to come. I was somewhat crazy then.” Surgeon JK Towle describes Gordon as “intelligent and well behaved.” Another surgeon adds: “If you know of anyone who talks about the humane manner in which the slaves are treated, please show them this picture. It is a lecture in itself.” The photo appears in Harpers Weekly and fuels anti-slavery sentiment in the North.

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