6 Facts About Sojourner Truth, the 19th-Century Abolitionist and Feminist

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Today, on the first day of Black History Month, the remarkable life of Sojourner Truth is celebrated with a Google Doodle. After spending much of her adolescence and adulthood in slavery, Truth took destiny into her own hands at age 30. She fled to freedom, changed her name, and started life anew as a preacher, abolitionist, and women's rights advocate. Here are six facts you should know about this champion of equality.

1. She was born into slavery and first sold at age 9.

Sojourner Truth (née Isabella Baumfree) was born to slave parents in a Dutch community in Ulster County, New York, in 1797. After being separated from her family at age 9, she was sold three times to different slave owners, one of whom beat her for speaking Dutch and not understanding their English commands.

2. She ran away with her infant daughter.

In 1827, Truth and her infant daughter fled to a nearby abolitionist family's home, but she had to leave her other children behind. The abolitionist couple bought her freedom for $20 and helped her get on her feet.

3. She was the first black woman to successfully bring a lawsuit against a white man.

You may have noticed there's a courthouse in the background of today's Google Doodle. It references the time Truth sued a slaveholder for illegally selling her 5-year-old son, Peter, after the New York Anti-Slavery Law had passed. The legal battle lasted months, but she won her son back.

4. She became a preacher.

Once she was freed, Truth moved to New York City and started working for a local minister. She became a powerful speaker, preaching about faith, women's rights, and the abolition of slavery. She eventually changed her name to Sojourner Truth, explaining that the holy spirit called upon her to speak the truth. In 1851, she delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio. The text of that speech is debated, but in one version she reportedly declared, "I have as much muscle as any man, and can do as much work as any man."

5. She met Abraham Lincoln.

Truth met and worked with plenty of well-known activists in her day, including Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Most famously, though, her efforts to recruit black Civil War soldiers put her on Abraham Lincoln's radar. She received an invitation to the White House in 1864, during which time President Lincoln showed her a Bible that had been given to him by black residents of Baltimore.

6. She will appear on the $10 bill.

In 2016, the U.S. Treasury announced it would unveil new currency designs in 2020 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Sojourner Truth was selected as one of five women to be incorporated on the back of the $10 bill, but as of 2018, the new treasury department officials wouldn't commit to going through with the bill designs.

DNA Links Polish Barber Aaron Kosminski to Jack the Ripper Murders, But Experts Are Skeptical

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Many people have been suspected of being Jack the Ripper, from author Lewis Carroll to Liverpool cotton salesman James Maybrick, but the perpetrator of the grisly crimes that gripped Victorian London has never been identified. Now, one of the case's first suspects is back in the news. As Smithsonian reports, Aaron Kosminski, a barber from Poland, has been linked to the Jack the Ripper murders with DNA evidence—but experts are hesitant to call the case closed.

The new claim comes from data now published in the Journal of Forensic Science. Several years ago, Ripperologist Russell Edwards asked researchers from the University of Leeds and John Moores University in Liverpool to analyze a blood-stained silk shawl thought to have belonged to Ripper victim Catherine Eddowes. The item, which Edwards owns, has been a primary piece of evidence in the murder investigation for years. In 2014, Edwards published a book in which he claimed Aaron Kosminski's DNA had been found on the garment, but his results weren't published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Five years later, the researchers have released their findings. Using infrared and spectrophotometry technology, they confirmed the fabric was stained with blood and discovered a possible semen stain. They collected DNA fragments from the stain and compared them to DNA taken from a descendent of Eddowes and a descendent of Kosminski. The mitochondrial DNA (the DNA passed down from mother to offspring) extracted from the shawl contained matching profiles for both subjects.

Kosminski was a 23-year-old Polish barber living in London at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders. He was one of the first suspects identified by the London police, but there wasn't enough evidence to convict him in 1888.

Following the newest study, many Jack the Ripper experts are saying there still isn't enough evidence to definitively pin the murders on Kosminski. One of the main issues is that a mitochondrial DNA match isn't as conclusive as matches with other DNA; many people have the same mitochondrial DNA profile, even if they're not related, so the forensic tool is best used for ruling out suspects rather than confirming them.

The shawl at the center of the study is also controversial. It was supposedly picked up by a police officer at the scene of Eddowes's murder, but that version of the story has been disputed. The shawl's origin also been traced back to multiple eras, including the early 1800s and early 1900s, as well as different parts of Europe.

Due to many factors complicating the Jack the Ripper case, the murders may never be solved completely. The crimes spurred a flurry of hoax letters to the London Police department in the 1880s, and even the letters that were thought to be authentic, like the one that gave Jack the Ripper his nickname, may have been fabricated.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Medgar Evers’s Mississippi Home Is Now a National Monument

Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Milt T, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Mississippi home where civil rights leader and World War II veteran Medgar Evers lived at the time of his assassination has just been declared a national monument, the Clarion Ledger reports. The new designation was part of a sweeping bill signed by President Donald Trump that also established four other national monuments: one in Utah, one in California, and two in Kentucky.

The three-bedroom house in Jackson was already a national historic landmark as well as a stop on the Mississippi Freedom Trail. However, it now has the distinction of being known as the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument. Evers and his wife, Myrlie, moved into the home with their two children after Evers became Mississippi’s first NAACP field secretary in 1954. As an outspoken activist, he also staged boycotts and voter registration drives, and helped desegregate the University of Mississippi.

The couple welcomed their third child into the world while living in their Jackson home, but due to Evers’s high profile, they had to take extra precautions. The home doesn’t have a front door because Evers believed this small barrier would help protect his family (the door was located on the side of the house instead). It wasn’t enough to protect him, though. On June 12, 1963, Evers was shot in his driveway by Klansman Byron De La Beckwith. A bullet hole can still be seen in a kitchen wall.

Evers’s murder helped prompt the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to historians. Myrlie Evers also went on to play a crucial role in the movement, serving as national chairwoman of the NAACP from 1995 to 1998. “Medgar and Myrlie Evers are heroes whose contributions to the advancement of civil rights in Mississippi and our nation cannot be overstated,” said U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, who co-sponsored the proposal for the national monument.

Under this new change of management—from former owners Tougaloo College to the federal government—the home will receive more funds for its preservation. Currently, the home can only be toured by appointment.

[h/t Clarion Ledger]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER