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The Message of Sojourner Truth Resonates 140 Years After She Spoke In Bloomington

Woman sits in a chair.
US Department of State
Reenactor Trisha James Davis says that Sojourner Truth's message "is still very prevalent."

Sojourner Truth made a stop in Bloomington in 1879 to hold a speaking engagement on women’s suffrage and equal, just treatment of former slaves like herself. 

Trisha James Davis of Springfield will portray Truth  at Second Presbyterian Church's Sojourner Truth Celebration,  honoring the 140-year anniversary of that speech. When discussing her approach to portraying the iconic figure, Davis emphasized the vocal aspects. 

“She had a heavy voice,” Davis said. “When I’m doing a presentation on her I will affect a heavier voice with a twinge of an accent.”

A Dutch accent, not southern. Davis pointed out while many reenactors put on a southern accent, Truth was born in New York and her first language was Dutch.

In New York she emancipated herself in 1826 after her master broke a deal to free her. The experiences of her early life as a slave had a lasting impact on her, said Davis.

“I think that being a slave and being mistreated and beat and considered to be less than a person affected her overall personality more than just a few incidents in her life,” Davis said. “I think that slavery itself was something that put a flame in her heart and her soul to fight for justice and rights for people of color.”

Truth, at the time she spoke in Bloomington, was focused on the plight of women’s suffrage and getting women equal treatment.

“She was talking about justice and freedom for all women,” Davis said of the speech.

Davis believes that the gender issues Truth advocated mending will resonate in our current climate.

“All of the things that she was fighting for and advocated for still need that same type of people to fight for it these days. Women even though they have made huge strides in this country still in a lot of professions and a lot of cases earn less than men. Women still struggle to obtain political office. Women are still looked at as not being equally qualified as men, so I think that issue is still very prevalent.”

When Davis performs, she said she focuses on what Truth advocated while not pushing buttons. 

“I think (Truth) told the truth about the treatment of women and people of color but I don’t think it was done in an accusatory or guilt implementing way.”

The Sojourner Truth Celebration will be held 7 p.m Wednesday, September 18 at Second Presbyterian Church. Admission is free and open to the public. The Wayman AME church and Mount Pisgah Baptist Church choirs will join the choir from 2nd Pres as part of the evening.

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WGLT News Director Charlie Schlenker grew up in Rock Island and graduated from Augustana College. He has spent more than three decades in radio.
Sean Newgent is a senior journalism major at Illinois State University. He's an intern for the GLT newsroom.