Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
By Frank Passic, Field Representative, Calhoun County, Michigan.
Here in Calhoun County, there is a large statue that greets visitors to downtown Battle Creek. Located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Division St. in Memorial Park, the statue features Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), the famous abolitionist and feminist who lived in the Cereal City from 1856 until her death in 1883. Born into slavery in New York, Sojourner is remembered for her lectures and speeches from the 1840s through the 1860s denouncing slavery and promoting women’s rights. During her travels, she gained private audiences with such notables as U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, England’s Queen Victoria, and others. There have been numerous books and articles written through the years about this remarkable woman. In February, 1986 the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp (first class postage was then 22¢) honoring Sojourner Truth as part of its Black Heritage series.
There is another side of Sojourner Truth however, which should be mentioned as we celebrate Black History Month in February: Sojourner Truth participated in the 1880 decennial U.S. Census. It was on June 10, 1880, that U.S. Census enumerator Gwen Macard arrived at the home of Sojourner Truth located at 10 College St. in Battle Creek, Michigan.
There were no “individual forms” in those days--names were added line-by-line onto ledger sheets as the Census enumerator went door-to-door gathering data. This was a far cry from the computers we use today. Imagine having to legibly write down individual information onto very awkward large size paper, and making sure your materials were properly secured in your buggy afterwards. You probably also had to make sure your horse didn’t eat any Census materials.
This writer served as the AMR for the Battle Creek Local Census Office in the 2000 Decennial Census. While working there one afternoon, I walked over to the nearby Willard Library and searched through their microfilm reel collection in the basement local history room. There I discovered the 1880 U.S. Census “form” of Sojourner Truth, and copied her page to share with others.
Sojourner is listed on page 23 of Supervisor’s District No. 1, and Enumeration District No. 13., with a pre-printed sheet number of 93 found in the upper right. She is listed on line number 34 under the name of “Truth, Sojourner.” Hers was the 239th house this particular enumerator had visited, and the 254th family the enumerator (Gwen Macard) listed. Sojourner gave her race as “B” for black; sex as “F” for female; and age as 104. That would have meant a birth year of 1776. This age discrepancy of twenty-one years was due to her exact birth year being unknown at the time. The now-accepted birth year of 1797 would actually have made her 83. She lists her occupation as “keeping house.” Her birthplace is listed as the State of New York, and place of birth of her parents unknown.
Staying with Sojourner at 10 College Street was her nephew William Boyd (line 36), age 18, whose occupation was listed as “at school.” He was born in Michigan as was his father, with his mother born in New York. The other person at the residence was Eliza Boyd (line 35), age 50, listed as a “boarder.” Born in Michigan, her parents are listed as being born in New York.
When she died on November 26, 1883, Sojourner Truth left a lasting legacy in American history that has endured for future generations to study and admire. She was interred in Oak Hill Cemetery there in Battle Creek, and descendants still live in the area today. Sojourner’s patriotic participation in the U.S. Census reminds us of the civic duty she performed by answering the Census enumerator, and highlights the fact that everyone counts equally. As Census field representatives, we may just find ourselves walking up the steps to the home of a famous person like Sojourner Truth, for our next great survey interview.
Excerpt from page 23 of Supervisor’s District No. 1, in Enumeration District No. 13., showing line 34
All text copyright, 2021 © all rights reserved Frank Passic