My Start Story Celebrates: Suffragist Sojourner Truth

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: August 4, 2020, 8:00AM

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree around 1797 in Ulster County, New York. Her parents were slaves and she remained in slavery until 1826, when she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter. She soon converted to Christianity, and in 1843 she changed her name to Sojourner Truth, devoting her life to preaching on behalf of abolitionism and women's rights.

In 1851, Truth delivered an improvised speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention that would come to be known as "Ain't I a Woman?" After the abolition of slavery with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Truth took up the causes of women’s suffrage and land grants for freed slaves. In her old age, she continued to speak passionately about women’s rights, universal suffrage, and prison reform. The 19th amendment was not ratified until nearly four decades after Truth's death at her home in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1883.

About the Narrator:
National Ambassador for the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek, MI

Vivian Laws Ritter is the National Ambassador for the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek, Michigan, which was founded by her twin sister, the late Dr. Velma Laws Clay. Clay established the institute in 1998 to expand the historical and biographical knowledge of Truth's life work and carry on her mission.

Ritter attended the 2009 unveiling of Truth’s memorial bust in the Capitol Building’s Emancipation Hall along with First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Truth is the first African American woman to have a statue at the Capitol.

On Aug. 8, 2020, Laws-Ritter died at her home in Washington D.C. of an apparent heart attack. She was 79. "Her oration and the joy she had as she spoke about Sojourner or any subject really was infectious," Battle Creek City Commissioner Lynn Ward Gray said. "She was a woman of action and inclusivity. She wanted to bring people together through art and dialogue and history. She wanted people to understand all those things to understand where our future would go. She held out hope that our world, our country would become a better place because of people like Sojourner Truth, people like her sister and their work for justice."

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