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PHOTO ESSAY

Influential Black Women

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Sojourner Truth, c. 1864

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

When Isabella Baumfree renamed herself Sojourner Truth, she selected her name as testament to her life's work—as one who travels towards the greater good. Truth's greater good lay in an explicitly feminist abolitionism. In the 1840s and 1850s Truth moved around the country preaching and speaking on the importance of abolition and when she spoke of abolition she meant freedom for all, not just men. While people were not always welcoming to an illiterate black woman who had spent her formative years in slavery, Truth persevered, publishing her life story and becoming an extremely popular and influential speaker. In 1851 Truth gave voice to the complex workings of race and sex with her famous speech on women's equality, "Ain't I a woman?". In this speech she called attention to the contradictions of viewing women as helpless and weak while referencing her own experiences as a strong person—both physically and mentally. Interestingly, Truth's stories have been mostly excluded from the slave narratives literary canon, not because of her race or sex but because she was a northern slave and not a southern one.

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