Sojourner Truth's Fight for African American and Women's Rights in 19th Century New York
Suggested Teaching Instructions
This learning activity asks students to analyze and evaluate primary and secondary sources and construct an argument about Sojourner Truth's methods for bringing about change and her overall impact. The court document from 1828 and the photograph from 1864 serve as primary sources. The PBS video and the newspaper obituary serve as secondary sources. While newspapers can sometimes be considered primary sources, readers must always take into consideration who wrote the piece, why it was written, and where they found their evidence for the piece. This obituary makes the claim that Truth was born before the American Revolution. However, most sources place her birth around the 1797. This activity exposes students to the complexity of sources and historical thinking and asks them to make a determination about validity and reliability.
Connections to the NYS Learning Standards
7.7 REFORM MOVEMENTS: Social, political, and economic inequalities sparked various reform movements and resistance efforts. Influenced by the Second Great Awakening, New York State played a key role in major reform efforts.
(Standards: 1, 5; Themes: SOC, CIV, GOV)
7.7c Women joined the movements for abolition and temperance and organized to advocate for women’s property rights, fair wages, education, and political equality.
Students will examine the efforts of women to acquire more rights. These women include Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Susan B. Anthony.
11.3 EXPANSION, NATIONALISM, AND SECTIONALISM (1800 – 1865): As the nation expanded, growing sectional tensions, especially over slavery, resulted in political and constitutional crises that culminated in the Civil War.
(Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5; Themes: TCC, GEO, GOV, ECO, TECH)
11.3b Different perspectives concerning constitutional, political, economic, and social issues contributed to the growth of sectionalism.
➢ Students will investigate the development of the abolitionist movement, focusing on Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Sojourner Truth, William Lloyd Garrison (The Liberator), Frederick Douglass (The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass and The North Star), and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom’s Cabin).
➢ Students will examine the emergence of the women’s rights movement out of the abolitionist movement, including the role of the Grimké sisters, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and evaluate the demands made at the Seneca Falls Convention (1848).
Common Core Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies
Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
8. Distinguish between fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.
9. Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.
Common Core Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects
Text Types and Purposes
1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.
b. Support claims with logical reasoning and relevant, accurate data and evidence that demonstrate an understanding of the topic or text, using credible sources.
Social Studies Practices
Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence
Analyze evidence in terms of historical context, content, authorship, point of view, purpose, and format; identify bias; explain the role of bias and audience in presenting arguments or evidence.
Make inferences and draw general conclusions from evidence.
Sojourner Truth Speech accessed from Anti-slavery bugle. [volume] (New-Lisbon, Ohio), 21 June 1851. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83035487/1851-06-21/ed-1/seq-4/>
You can have students further investigate Truth's speech by having them analyze two different versions. The first version published in 1851 is the one used in this learning activity. The more famous one that is often quoted was published by Matilda Gage 12 years later. Visit this site to have students compare the two versions. https://www.thesojournertruthproject.com/compare-the-speeches/
Photograph of Sojourner Truth accessed from https://collections.si.edu/search/detail/edanmdm:npg_NPG.78.207
From the Smithsonian Institution, "In 1843, sixteen years after gaining her freedom, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth and emerged as one of the nation’s foremost abolitionists. Speaking throughout the country, she supported her antislavery campaign through sales of her book, the Narrative of Sojourner Truth (1850), and by selling copies of her photograph, which carried the caption, “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.”
- Truth continued to call for slavery’s abolition during the Civil War and rejoiced when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). Eager to assist the many refugees from enslavement who were flocking to Washington, D.C., she traveled there in 1864. Appointed by the National Freedmen’s Relief Association to serve as “counselor to the freed people” at Freedmen’s Village—the camp established by the federal government at Arlington Heights, Virginia—Truth earned praise for her “great service rendered to the Freedmen and their families.”"
- Obituary of Sojourner Truth accessed from https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83031339/1883-12-05/ed-1/seq-2/