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Feb 24, 2012 | EDOT Staff, Commission on Black Ministry

Pioneers for Black Emancipation

The Episcopal Church has tentatively added to its Calendar two American women who were pioneers in the struggle for the  emancipation of African-American slaves. The date chosen for commemorating them is the anniversary of the Women's Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, New York, July 19-20, 1848.


Sojourner Truth (Nov. 26, 1883)

Sojourner Truth, originally known as Isabella, was born a slave in New York in about 1798. In 1826 she escaped with the aid of Quaker Abolitionists and became a street-corner evangelist and the founder of a shelter for homeless women. When she was travelling and someone asked her name, she said "Sojourner," meaning that she was a citizen of heaven, and a wanderer on earth. She then gave her surname as "Truth," on the grounds that God was her Father, and His name was Truth. She spoke at numerous church gatherings, both black and white, quoting the Bible extensively from memory and speaking against slavery, as well as for an improved legal status for women.

The speech for which she is best known is called, "Ain't I a Woman?" It was delivered in response to a male speaker who had been arguing that the refusal of votes for women was grounded in a wish to shelter women from the harsh realities of political life. She replied, with great effect, that she was a woman, and that society had not sheltered her. She became known as "the Miriam of the Latter Exodus." Sojourner Truth joined the Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church when African-Americans were denied membership in St. George's Church, Philadelphia. 

Harriet Ross Tubman (March 10, 1913)

Harriet Ross was born in 1820 in Maryland. She was impressed by the Bible narrative of God's deliverance of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and it became the basis of her belief that it was God's will to deliver slaves in America out of their bondage and that it was her duty to help accomplish this. In 1844, she escaped to Canada, but returned to help others escape. Working with other Abolitionists, chiefly white Quakers, she made at least nineteen excursions into Maryland in the 1850's, leading more than 300 slaves to freedom. During the American Civil War, she joined the Northern Army as a cook and a nurse and a spy, and on one occasion led a raid that freed more than 750 slaves. After the war, she worked to shelter orphans and elderly poor persons and to advance the status of women and blacks. She became known as "the Moses of her People."