Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York State around 1797. Her master gave her the name Isabella. When he died, she was auctioned off along with his sheep and cattle. She was not yet 10.
In 1827, New York State abolished slavery and declared Isabella and other former enslaved people to be free. Isabella was then 30 and had several children. Her master, angry at losing his property, sold her five-year-old son Peter to an Alabama plantation. The sale was illegal under New York's new law, but no one, least of all the former slave-holder, believed an illiterate black woman would stand up to a white man and defend her rights.
They were wrong.
With the help of a Quaker friend, Isabella walked to the nearest Court House in Kingston, NY. Before a sea of white faces, she declared her legal right to file a complaint against her former owner. At first the all-white, all-male jury ignored her. A few even laughed at her. But Isabella stayed put and continued to demand the rightful return of her son. Eventually, just to get rid of her, the jury granted Isabella a writ, recognizing that her former master had acted illegally. But it did not get her son back. So Isabella turned to the Quakers again, who helped her to raise money for a lawyer. Peter was eventually brought home and reunited with his mother.
Now free, Isabella felt compelled to create a new identity separate from the one forced upon her by her enslavement. A devout evangelical Christian, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth, meaning ‘a wanderer who tells the truth’ and she began attending religious festivals and camp meetings throughout the US to speak out against slavery and discrimination. She was often the only person of color at these meetings, which was terrifying, even in the North. But the truth and her voice became Sojourner's staff and shield. It is said that at one service, a group of angry young men heckled her and the other preachers, threatening to burn down the meeting. But the power of Soujourner’s words were enough to silence even them; when it was her turn to speak, they quieted and sat down to join the service.