Sojourner Truth’s battle cry still resonates 170 years later

Her famous “Ain’t I a woman?” speech helped launch the women's suffrage movement and symbolizes America’s ongoing fight for fairness and equity.

An 1864 imprint of Sojourner Truth includes her words "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Truth sat for portraits and sold pamphlets to underwrite the cost of her activism as she traveled the country fighting for human rights. On May 29, 1871, Truth delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman" speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech is credited with helping to launch the women's suffrage movement in the United States.

For Barbara Allen, the ironies of traveling to Angola, Indiana, on June 6 are fairly obvious. She’ll be participating in the unveiling of a statue at the Steuben County Courthouse honoring the legendary formerly enslaved abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

The first irony is that Sojourner Truth is Barbara Allen’s sixth great-grandmother, born in 1797 in New York State and who died in Battle Creek, Michigan in 1893. The second irony is that at least once during Truth’s Indiana tour in 1861, she was arrested for speaking. It was a risk she took every time she stepped on a podium, and Allen can feel that resolve flowing through her veins.

“Just like she would holler for some rights, I’ve always had the need to speak up and speak out. And that’s where my personality comes from. When I look back on my own life, I think, ‘Oh my God, life just goes in circles, and I’m in that circle.’ “

That full-circle moment amplifies the growing stature of Truth, an iconic symbol of the interwoven threads in the...

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