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[Sojourner Truth seated with photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell of Co. H, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, on her lap]

Sojourner Truth seated with photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell of Co. H, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, on her lap

between 1863 and 1865
Photograph
Library of Congress

Sojourner Truth seated with photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell of Co. H, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, on her lap. United States, 1863. [Battle Creek, Michigan: Publisher not identified] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017648645/.

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree as a slave in the state of New York in 1797. During her servitude she was sold multiple times and suffered harsh physical punishments. Truth escaped from her masters and fled to abolitionists, who helped her purchase her freedom. Soon thereafter the state of New York ended slavery. In the 1830s she participated in a series of religious revivals and began preaching in 1843, when she officially changed her name to Sojourner Truth because she believed God called upon her to spread the truth. She joined the abolitionist crusade against slavery and went on a lecture tour in the North. The network she tapped into allowed people such as Truth, Frederick Douglass, and other escaped slaves to educate Northerners about the horrors of slavery and the strong desire of the enslaved to gain their freedom. As a charismatic speaker who had suffered under slavery, Truth could provide a female perspective on the distinct ways that the institution of slavery affected women and their children. During the Civil War, Truth actively recruited young black men to join the Union army and helped organize supplies for the troops. 

 

This photograph pictures Truth holding a photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell, a member of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The 54th was one of the first regiments of black troops organized by the Union army. African American soldiers were paid less than whites, suffered terrible racism, and were often executed, enslaved, or forced back into slavery when captured by the enemy. How does Sojourner Truth’s story help to answer the question, How did the country change because of the Civil War?

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree as a slave in the state of New York in 1797. During her servitude she was sold multiple times and suffered harsh physical punishments. Truth escaped from her masters and fled to abolitionists, who helped her purchase her freedom. Soon thereafter the state of New York ended slavery. In the 1830s she participated in a series of religious revivals and began preaching in 1843, when she officially changed her name to Sojourner Truth because she believed God called upon her to spread the truth. She joined the abolitionist crusade against slavery and went on a lecture tour in the North. The network she tapped into allowed people such as Truth, Frederick Douglass, and other escaped slaves to educate Northerners about the horrors of slavery and the strong desire of the enslaved to gain their freedom. As a charismatic speaker who had suffered under slavery, Truth could provide a female perspective on the distinct ways that the institution of slavery affected women and their children. During the Civil War, Truth actively recruited young black men to join the Union army and helped organize supplies for the troops. 

 

This photograph pictures Truth holding a photograph of her grandson, James Caldwell, a member of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The 54th was one of the first regiments of black troops organized by the Union army. African American soldiers were paid less than whites, suffered terrible racism, and were often executed, enslaved, or forced back into slavery when captured by the enemy. These questions can help guide your students in a discussion about black troops during the Civil War: Why would hundreds of thousands of African Americans agree to risk their lives for a government that actively discriminated against them? What do you think this photograph meant to Truth? How could this photograph have been used by army recruiters and abolitionists to mobilize support for the Union during the war? How does this photograph provide a symbol for the ways the North changed during the course of Truth’s life? What role did she play in bringing about these changes? How does the image reflect the ways the Civil War transformed the meaning of freedom in the United States for certain members of society? What does this photograph reveal about gender roles and generational differences during the Civil War? Would the Emancipation Proclamation help recruit additional black troops to the US Army? How would Truth explain the relationship between former slaves who buried the corpses of white soldiers who fought and died for the Union army at the Battle of Cold Harbor (see Source 6)? Do you think Truth thought the wartime sacrifices made by soldiers, black and white, were worth it? Why?

Sojourner Truth