Black History Month in the Hudson Valley: A History of Sojourner Truth, Slave-Turned-Activist in Ulster County, Upstate NY
Seeking Truth: Few remember that Sojourner Truth, former slave turned abolitionist and women’s rights activist, started her journey in Ulster County
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“Ain’t I a woman?”
It was when she was in her 50s that Truth’s reputation really began to grow. In 1854, she gave perhaps her most famous speech at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention in Akron. It became known as the “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, and pulled together her personal story of slavery, abuse, and degradation.
During the Civil War, she spoke about and aided the Union cause, enlisted black troops (her grandson was part of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts), and helped emancipated slaves adjust to their new freedom. She even met President Abraham Lincoln. In 1863, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote a praise-filled article about her in The Atlantic Monthly.
After the Civil War ended, Truth continued working to help the newly freed slaves, and traveling to preach and speak. In 1874, she developed ulcers on her leg, and by 1880, she could no longer travel widely. She continued to preach around Michigan, speaking up for temperance and against capital punishment. She died on November 26, 1883, at 86 years of age, and is buried in Michigan.
At one time, Mabee gave tours of select local sites that were important in Truth’s life, but no longer does so. Along with the Kingston Courthouse, there are churches, gravesites, and homes she frequented. Some of them are in private hands or in a fragile state, so Nyquist is reluctant to say where they are. “But if people want to visit them, I can contact the owners and try to arrange it,” she says. “Ulster County should have some kind of tour on her life here. That would be fascinating.”
In 2009 the Esopus town board established the Sojourner Truth Memorial at the corner of Route 9W and Salem Street in Port Ewen. The memorial is slated to include a statue of Truth as a young girl, which (according to Corinne Nyquist) will be erected sometime later this year.
The Sojourner Truth Memorial Fund needs financial help. Tax-deductible contributions can be mailed to P.O. Box 3046, Kingston, New York 12402. For more information, visit www.sojournertruthesopusmemorial.com.