Sojourner Truth was a dynamic voice for abolition and suffrage. She was able to escape slavery, went to court to save her son and spent time helping African Americans transistion into post-slavery life after the Civil War.
She was born into slavery and given the name Isabella in about 1797. It wasn’t until her mid-30s that she was able to get away and eventually made it to New York City. She named herself Sojourner Truth.
True to her name, Sojourner traveled the country, a charismatic speaker for social justice. She settled in Battle Creek in 1857 and died in 1883.
Sojourner Truth is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. Her gravemarker is near the C.W. Post mausoleum. It’s a tall, white tablet framed by hedges.
Visit the Sojourner Truth Memorial on the corner of North Division Street and East Michigan Avenue. The sculpture is 12 feet high and depicts Truth standing at a lectern. Quotes and her signature have been incorporated into the design. It’s become a gathering place for demonstrations on social justice issues.
If you’re at the memorial, then walk down Michigan, turn left onto Capital Avenue, and on the corner of Capital Avenue is a mural of Sojourner Truth, depicted in a rainbow of colors against a stark background.
To learn more about her life story, go to the Battle Creek Regional History Museum. Tommy McLiechey is a fifth-generation descendent of Truth and an artist. He has drawn a series of panels depicting different episodes from his ancestor’s life, so you can follow along in her footsteps. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Speaking of footsteps, one unique Truth artifact can be found in Quaker Park. It was once the site of a meeting house for the Society of Friends. Sojourner Truth sang at the opening and her footsteps were preserved. You can find them in the park, with a plaque that says: “Stand in my footprints. Follow my vision. Sojourner Truth 1797-1997.”
According to a sign in Quaker Park: “One leader in the abolition movement was Sojourner Truth who traveled the country giving speeches against slavery. In October of 1856 she came to Battle Creek with Quaker Henry Willis to speak at a Friends of Human Progress meeting held at the Quaker meeting house. She chose to make Battle Creek her home and her antislavery, women’s rights, and temperance arguments brought both regional and national recognition to the city.”
If you’re looking for more about Truth, the Kimball House Museum has a major collection of artifacts and archival material, but it’s only open to the public for part of the year, from 1 to 4 p.m. on the first and third Sundays from April through December. For more information on the archive, you can contact the Historical Society of Battle Creek.
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