Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883) was born with the name Isabella Baumfree. When she was 46 in 1843, after she’d gone east, she stopped at a Quaker farm to ask for a drink. When asked her first name, she replied “Sojourner”, and when asked her last name, she said: “The only master I have now is God, and His name is Truth.” She was an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, NY, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Her best-known extemporaneous speech on racial inequalities, “Ain't I a Woman?”, was delivered in 1851 at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention in Akron, OH. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves.
Harriet Ross Tubman was born Araminta Ross (1822-1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made 13 missions to rescue more than 70 slaves, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era struggled for women's suffrage. As a child in Dorchester County, MD, Tubman was beaten by masters to whom she was hired out. Early in her life, she suffered a head wound when hit by a heavy metal weight. The injury caused disabling seizures, narcoleptic attacks, headaches, and powerful visionary and dream activity, which occurred throughout her life. A devout Christian, Tubman ascribed the visions and vivid dreams to revelations from God. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night, Tubman (or "Moses", as she was called) "never lost a passenger". Large rewards were offered for the return of many of the fugitive slaves, but no one then knew that Tubman was the one helping them. When the Southern-dominated Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, requiring law officials in free states to aid efforts to recapture slaves, she helped guide fugitives farther north into Canada, where slavery was prohibited. When the American Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. After the war, she retired to the family home in Auburn, NY, where she cared for her aging parents. She became active in the women's suffrage movement in New York until illness overtook her. Near the end of her life, she lived in a home for elderly African-Americans that she had helped found years earlier.
Each of these women, in her own way, was an outstanding steward of God’s gracious gifts and used them to serve humankind. They all accomplished what they did “with the strength that God supplies.” Despite so many indignities and injuries heaped upon most of them, they responded with the generosity of the friend in today’s Gospel. Their courageous faith enabled them to keep asking, searching, and knocking on the doors of all who would listen to their persistent calls for freedom, justice, and equality for all God’s children.