Abraham Lincoln’s White House was busy with citizens seeking favors for themselves and others, but on Oct, 29, 1864, he had a remarkable visitor. Sojourner Truth was the most renowned African-American woman of the 19th century, and she had come all the way from Battle Creek, Michigan, because she wanted to thank the president for emancipating the slaves.
She had become well known in part for her gift of persuasive speech. At the Akron, Women Convention in 1851, when a man spoke of the physical weakness of women, she held the convention spellbound with her speech that has now become so familiar. “I have plowed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”
Her grit had been indispensable. She had been emancipated in 1827 as a result of a New York law passed a decade prior, but several of her children remained in bondage, including a son, Peter, who was sold illegally to a slaveholder in Alabama. She took what would be almost an impossible course for a woman in her position, and sued the man who sold her son, won in court, and Peter was returned to her free of the obligations of slavery.
Through Truth was illiterate, she dictated this narrative about her meeting with Lincoln:
In the painting of Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln, they are examining a Bible, given to Lincoln on Sept. 7 1874, not long before Truth’s visit and described in The Daily Morning Chronicle of Washington:
Yesterday afternoon a Bible was presented, on behalf of the loyal colored residents of Baltimore, by Revs. A. W. Wayman, S. W. Chase, and W. H. Brown, and Mr. William H. Francis, to President Lincoln. The members of the committee were introduced by Mr. S. Mathews, of Maryland, and individually welcomed by the President. This ceremony having been concluded, Rev. S. W. Chase addressed the President as follows:
“Mr. President: The loyal colored people of Baltimore have entrusted us with authority to present this Bible as a testimonial of their appreciation of your humane conduct towards the people of our race. While all others of this nation are offering their tribute of respect to you, we cannot omit suitable manifestation of ours. Since our incorporation into the American family we have been true and loyal, and we are now ready to aid in defending the country, to be armed and trained in military matters, in order to assist in protecting and defending the star-spangled banner.
“Towards you, sir, our hearts will ever be warm with gratitude. We come to present to you this copy of the Holy Scriptures, as a token of respect for your active participation in furtherance of the cause of the emancipation of our race. This great event will be a matter of history. Hereafter, when our children shall ask what mean these tokens, they will be told of your worthy deeds, and will rise up and call you blessed. “The loyal colored people of this country everywhere will remember you at the Throne of Divine Grace. May the King Eternal, an all-wise Providence protect and keep you, and when you pass from this world to that of eternity, may you be borne to the bosom of your Saviour and your God.”