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A Voice of Encouragement - Sojourner Truth

By Rebecca Price Janney, Feb 15 2018 07:32PM

In the aftermath of the Florida school tragedy, we could all use an uplifting story, a reminder that other eras also had to deal with senseless violence. This one about Sojourner Truth struck me as especially encouraging:

Her original name was Isabella, and she was born sometime in the late 1790s in upstate New York. After slavery was abolished in 1827, she took herself and her freedom to New York City where she worked as a domestic servant. Isabella also joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and began preaching at evangelistic services, discovering she had a compelling gift for speaking about the faith.

In 1843, she decided to change her name because, as she said, “I wasn’t goin’ to keep nothin’ of Egypt on me.” She prayed for a new name, “And the Lord gave me Sojourner” because she was being called to preach in many places. Then she asked for a last name “cause everybody had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.” In addition to preaching, Sojourner also spoke out against slavery and for women’s suffrage.

She was speaking at a Massachusetts camp meeting in 1844 when a rowdy group of men broke into the gathering, threatening to set fire to the tents. Sojourner was the only black person at the rally and, scared to death, she hurried to a corner of a tent and hid behind a trunk. Realizing her faith was calling her to be strong, she roused herself from her position and went outside. She climbed to the top of a hill and began singing:

It was early in the morning,

It was early in the morning,

Just at the break of day,

When He rose,

When He rose,

When He rose,

And went to heaven on a cloud.

Both rioters and worshipers gazed at Sojourner in amazement. Her worst fears, however, started materializing when the protesters began surging toward her, most of them carrying sticks and clubs. Finding herself surrounded on every side, she called out to them, “Why do you come about me with clubs and sticks? I am not doing harm to anyone.”

Several of the men responded, “We ain’t goin’ to hurt you, old woman. We just came to hear you sing!”

(Excerpted from Great Stories in American History, Rebecca Price Janney, 1998)

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