Black History Month: The First Black Woman to Sue a White Man and Win

Sojourner Truth

Against all odds, a Black woman and former slave sued her previous owner and became the first Black woman to win a court case against a white man. She used the gospel to speak against racial injustice and advocated for women’s rights. Her name was Sojourner Truth. Born Isabella Baumfree, a slave in Ulster county, New York, she would edvently be sold to a man named John Dumont. She was forced to marry another slave man that Dumont owned, since her lover had a different owner. After she gave birth to five children, Dumont promised to set her free so long as she “behaved.” However, when the time came, he went back on his word. So Truth ran away with her daughter, leaving the others behind as they were still Dumont’s. She met the Wagenen family, who helped her escape by paying her owner for her services. The Wagenens would have a lifetime affect on her, as she adopted their beliefs. Truth filed a lawsuit against Dumont, who illegally sold her five year old son Peter after the New York Anti-Slavery Law was established. With the help of the Wagenens, she won the case and was reunited with her son. Truth launched her career as equal rights activist in 1843, as she felt an obligation to preach against slavery and spread the gospel. She soon met famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1844 at the Northern Association of Education and Industry. Her speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, where she met suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. During the Civil War, she helped recruit Black men for the war effort. She also worked for the National Freedom Relief Association and helped deliver employment to freed Black people struggling with poverty. In October 1864, she was invited to visit the White House by President Lincoln. Three years later, Truth continued to advocate against discrimination and women’s rights in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was “concerned that some civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglass felt equal rights for black men took precedence over those of black women.” She died on November 26, 1883, but even after her death, Truth’s words still lived on through her many songs and autobiography.

Check out this video to learn more about Sojourner Truth.

— Maya Ross