Sojourner Truth Abolitionist Visits President Lincoln

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Sojourner Truth Abolitionist Visits President Lincoln
1963
Berry Horton
1917-1987
Oil on canvas
39.62 x 29.5 in.
DuSable Museum of African American History, purchased from Illinois State Historical Library
1987.15.19

In 1864 an African American woman named Sojourner Truth talked with Abraham Lincoln at the White House. By that year, her famous speeches, including one called “Ain’t I a Woman?” made Truth a leader in the movement to end slavery and the movement for women’s rights. During the Civil War, Truth traveled to Washington, D.C. to work with the National Freedman’s Relief Association; while there, she made an appointment to visit the President as well. This painting is a copy of a photograph of a now-destroyed 1893 painting.  It depicts Lincoln showing Truth a Bible presented to him earlier that year by African American residents of Baltimore.

Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was born into slavery in New York State, and her birth name was Isabella Baumfree. She grew up in a Dutch settlement. She was sold away from her family when she was nine years old to an owner who forced her to learn English. One year prior to the enactment of the New York State Emancipation Act in 1826, Truth walked away from slavery after her owner broke his promise to grant her freedom. After taking the name Sojourner Truth in 1843, she committed her life to preaching against injustice. Sojourner Truth overcame the prejudices that many white people of her time held against her, like being poor, illiterate, female, and an ex-slave. Despite these challenges, she became an active supporter of equality who met with many important Northern leaders, including the President.


Questions:
1. Why do you think Sojourner Truth decided to change her name? What sort of meaning do names have for people?

2. The brown, black, and white tones of this painting make it look somewhat like an old photograph.  Why do you think the artist used these colors? What is unusual or interesting about the portrait?

Further reading:
Ashley, Martin L. and Mary G. Butler. “Sojourner’s Amazing Life…And Beyond.” Sojourner Truth Institute. http://www.sojournertruth.org/History/Biography/Default.htm.

Coates, Steve. “Abraham Lincoln and Sojourner Truth.” New York Times. October 29, 2010.http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/29/abraham-lincoln-and-sojourner-truth/.

Mabee, Carleton. “Sojourner Truth and President Lincoln.” The New England Quarterly, 61, no. 4 (Dec., 1988): 518-529. http://www.jstor.org/stable/365943.

Slavery in America. “New York Slave Law Summary and Record.” Slavery in America. http://www.slaveryinamerica.org/geography/slave_laws_NY.htm.


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