Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, February 4, 2001, pg. 20.
We all know that the famous black abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) lived in Battle Creek and that there have been numerous remembrances of her in the Cereal City. Last year there was a cover story about her in the January-February 2000 issue of Michigan History Magazine.
Sojourner traveled across the North spreading her abolitionist message, and had audience with numerous dignitaries, including U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Britain’s Queen Victoria. Sojourner moved to Battle Creek in 1856 and lived there until her death in 1883, with burial in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Did you know however, that Sojourner Truth made numerous visits to Albion and knew people here? That fact is related by Dr. Elmore Palmer in his 1908-09 "Biographical Sketches" that were published in the Albion Mirror newspaper. In Sketch No. 29, Dr. Palmer states in part, "Sojourner Truth had several children, all born in slavery. For the last 35 years of her life, her home was in Battle Creek, Michigan, although she was away most of the time lecturing throughout the country. Many and oft were the times that she visited Albion, and thus was she known to many of our residents in those days."
"She wielded a power over her audiences that fired the hearts of the multitudes that flocked to hear her plead for the freedom of her race. Such was the esteem in which she was held that she commanded the affection of all, and was given a hearty welcome and generous hospitality in the homes of our best people."
Dr. Palmer also related another aspect about Sojourner Truth in a peculiar story that has not been readily publicized. He states, "The late Theodore Tilton, who boasted that he had never had a pipe, cigar or cigarette in his mouth used to declare that the most inveterate smoker he ever knew was Sojourner Truth. He was wont to tell how one day, when the venerable dame, then about 90 years of age, was on a visit to his house, she sat smoking her pipe by the chimney corner, when George P. Bungay, the author of several eloquent anti-tobacco tracts, called to see her. "Aunt Sojourner," he said, "I revere your character, but I deplore your smoking, for it will keep you forever out of heaven."
"Lawkes honey, how so?," she asked. "Because Aunty," he replied, "You know that according to the Good Book, nothing entereth there that defileth. Now how do you expect to get into heaven with your breath defiled with tobacco? "Lawkes, honey," replied the old negress, "when I get to heaven, I ‘spects to leave my breff behind me."
There is also another connection of Sojourner Truth with Albion. The Michigan History article mentions that artist Frank C. Courter [art professor at Albion College in the 1890s] of Albion was commissioned to paint an image recreating Sojourner’s 1864 visit to the White House. This painting was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, but was later destroyed in the 1902 fire at the Battle Creek Sanitarium where it was on exhibit.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of Sojourner Truth. Reprint copies of Dr. Elmore Palmer’s "Biographical Sketches" are available at the Albion Chamber of Commerce.
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic