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The Two Sojourners

Mars mission launches opportunity to discover Sojourner Truth

Who in late-19th-century America could have imagined that, a mere 10 decades or so later, a machine called a micro-rover would soon be landing on Mars to scout the planet? And--now here's a stretch--that such a machine would be named in honor of someone from their own century? And perhaps most unimaginable of all, that this futuristic machine would be named not for a scientist, nor a wealthy patron, nor any man among them--but in honor of a woman, a black woman, a freed slave named Sojourner Truth.

The micro-rover named Sojourner--a 25-pound, six-wheeled robotic explorer, the first ever on Mars--will roam across an ancient Martian flood plain after the Pathfinder lands on the Red Planet on July 4. The machine will "travel up and down the land" as Sojourner Truth did--only her quest was not to collect scientific data, but to fight for the rights of all people to be free and for women to participate fully in society.

As data from the rover is relayed to earth and makes headlines in the months ahead, ask your students: What, besides their names, do the two Sojourners have in common? What could possibly link these two pioneers--well, there's one point--across more than a hundred years and millions of miles? It's an opportune time to introduce students to Sojourner Truth, her amazing life, and her thought-provoking, inspiring speech, "Ain't I A Woman?"

Unintimidated by boos and hisses, Sojourner Truth stood before a white audience at an 1851 conference on women's rights and, in her powerful way, brought to their attention that the rights of black women were being ignored:

    ". . . That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed 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? . . ."

Invite students to examine the odds Sojourner Truth had to overcome in her life. What odds do NASA scientists face in their quest to explore Mars?

Born into slavery in the late 1790s, Sojourner Truth eventually spoke before Congress and two presidents during her long and productive life. She was appointed to the National Freedmen's Relief Association to help council ex-slaves, and she worked to help desegregate streetcars in the District of Columbia. She died in 1883.

In 1986, Sojourner Truth was honored on a U.S. commemorative postage stamp. Now she again has been honored by having the Mars Pathfinder micro-rover named for her. The Sojourner micro-rover will "travel up and down" on the Red Planet during the approximate bicentennial year of her birth.

Today we count Sojourner Truth among the heroes of the 1800s. One hundred years from now, who will be honored as making a difference in the 20th century?

Read all about her!
    Books about Sojourner Truth:

  • Younger Readers
    • "Sojourner Truth: A Photo Illustrated Biography," by Margo McLoone, Bridgestone Press, Capstone Press, 1997
    • "A Picture Book of Sojourner Truth," by Gershom Griffith, Holiday House, 1994
    • "Sojourner Truth," by Norman L. Macht, Chelsea Juniors, 1992
    • "Sojourner Truth: Ain't I A Woman?" by Fredrick McKissack, Scholastic, 1992
    • "Sojourner Truth: Anitslavery Activist," by Peter Krass, Chelsea House Publ., 1988.
    • "Sojourner Truth: A Self-Made Woman," by Victoria Ortiz, J.B. Lippincott Co., 1974.
  • Older Readers
    • "Narrative of Sojourner Truth," by Sojourner Truth, Vintage Books, 1993 edition.
      The book that the activist wrote and sold to support her travels.
    • "Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol," by Nell Irvin Painter, W.W. Norton, 1996
    • "Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend," by Charleton Mabee, New York Univ. Press, 1993.
    • "Journey Toward Freedom: The Story of Sojourner Truth," by Jacqueline Bernard, Feminist Press, City University of New York, 1990.

    Source (in part): Sojourner Truth: A 19th-Century Traveling Advocate for Civil Rights, by Kelli Mellgren and Ken Edgett

Article by Colleen Newquist
Education World®
Copyright © 1997 Education World

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06/15/1997