The start of February marks the beginning of Black History Month. It’s the perfect time to brush up on our history and remind ourselves of the many sacrifices black leaders and activists endured in the pursuit of racial equality—and to remember how far we still have to go. Today, February 1st, Google kicked off the month with a Google Doodle honoring the abolitionist and black suffragist Sojourner Truth. The Google Doodle was designed by Loveis Wise, a black, Philadelphia-based artist. Wise told Google that creating the illustration was “especially personal and meaningful” to her as a black woman.
According to the National Women’s History Museum, Truth was born a slave in a rural, Dutch-speaking part of New York in 1797. After being bought and sold four times, she fled with her children to a family of abolitionists who bought her freedom. She successfully sued for the freedom of her son, Peter, and he was returned to her in 1828. She then moved to New York City, where she adopted the name Sojourner Truth around 1843 and began preaching. Although she couldn’t read or write, she was known as a powerful orator.
Through her work, Truth met abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, as well as suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She detailed her life as a slave in her autobiography, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, published in 1850. According to PBS, during the Civil War, she advocated for black soldiers to be able to fight with the Union, and she later volunteered to bring them supplies. She was also a model of intersectionalism, demanding that both black people and women be granted the right to vote.
Truth is perhaps most famous for her 1851 speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” which she delivered in Akron, Ohio at a women’s rights conference. In it, she argued against perceptions of black women as inferior. The Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee notes that the speech wasn’t written down at the time, and that conflicting versions of it exist. Many doubt that Truth actually said the words “Ain’t I a woman” because her Northern heritage would make her unlikely to speak with a Southern dialect. In fact, the version of the speech that contains these words has been questioned because it was published 12 years after Truth gave her address. A report on the speech from 1851, written by Truth’s friend Marius Robinson, differs significantly. You can read both versions at the Sojourner Truth Project.
As we continue to advocate for equality for all people, Truth’s legacy remains crucial. Today, we’re taking the time to remember this incredible woman.