February is Black History Month, which makes this a good time to learn a bit more about the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history. What better examples than two women who were born into slavery and later became champions for civil rights?
Sojourner Truth could not read a book, but she could read people. She once said, “I know and do what is right better than many big men who read.”
Born Isabella Baumfree in 1797, Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. As a slave, she was bought and sold four times, and subjected to harsh physical labor and violent punishments.
In the biography “Sojourner Truth - A Life, A Symbol,” historian Nell Irvin Painter writes that Truth’s words of empowerment have inspired black women and poor people the world over to this day. As a Pentecostal preacher, she said that “religion without humanity is very poor stuff.”
Harriet Tubman was also born into slavery. She became known as the Moses of her people when she escaped and then helped others to gain their freedom as the “conductor” of the Underground Railroad.
Tubman also served as a scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War, according to the National Women’s History Museum. She is considered the first African American woman to serve in the military.
When she was 12 years old, Tubman intervened to keep her master from beating an enslaved man who tried to escape. She was hit in the head with a two-pound weight, leaving her with a lifetime of severe headaches and narcolepsy. Despite this, she became a heroine of U.S. history, joining Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Like Tubman, Sojourner Truth knew that “if it is not a fit place for women, it is unfit for men to be there.” She also knew that our struggles may shape us but they don’t have to define us.
“Life is a hard battle anyway. If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.”