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True Story Behind Sojourner Truth

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An integral part of Black history in the U.S. is receiving a new round of recognition and honors more than 200 years after her birth.

Video Transcript

CHRIS WRAGGE: An integral part of the Black History in the US is-- is receiving a new round of recognition and honors, more than 200 years after her birth. CBS 2's, Elise Preston, has the true story behind Sojourner Truth.

ELISE PRESTON: In the quiet upstate New York town of Esopus, next to a pizza shop, you'll find a small memorial with a statue of a girl who would grow up to become a larger than life figure in American history.

DELANA FLOWERS: I am a woman rights. I have as much muscle as any man.

ELISE PRESTON: Those powerful words of Sojourner Truth can be heard in an online production from Pittsburgh's prime stage theater.

DELANA FLOWERS: I saw what God had in store for me and I became more determined than ever to carry it out.

ELISE PRESTON: Actress Delana Flowers portrays the women's rights and anti-slavery pioneer.

DELANA FLOWERS: I am grateful for the opportunity to show the power of a Black woman who chose to fight for this country, for her people.

[CHEERING AND APPLAUSE]

ELISE PRESTON: The past few months have been monumental for Truth. Over the summer, she was put on a pedestal in Manhattan's Central Park with Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And another new statue stands near the Hudson River. Truth's six generation grandson, Cory McLiechey, was there to celebrate the unveiling.

CORY MCLIECHEY: I explained to my kids. I was like, you know, you represent a very important woman who has an amazing legacy.

ELISE PRESTON: This statue is near where Truth was born into slavery around 1797. She was given the name, Isabella, and separated from her parents around the age of nine.

DELANA FLOWERS: The first time I was ever sold off like a piece of property.

ELISE PRESTON: She was regularly beaten and it's believed one owner repeatedly raped her.

DELANA FLOWERS: Later on, Master Dumont married me off to one of his older slaves.

ELISE PRESTON: The mother of six eventually escaped to freedom in 1826. A year later, the state of New York abolished slavery, but one of her children had been sold.

NELL PAINTER: The large family that owned Isabella and her children, sold her son, Peter, into another branch of the family in the South, where he would be a slave for life.

ELISE PRESTON: Biographer, Nell Painter, tells how Truth boldly sued for custody of Peter and won.

NELL PAINTER: All the power was stacked against her, but she went to court. She used the law, she got her son back.

ELISE PRESTON: The historic case raised her profile with abolitionist and she changed her name. Why the name Sojourner Truth?

NELL PAINTER: OK. She did use that name. Truth was what she was preaching, and Sojourner, was that she was a moving preacher.

ELISE PRESTON: The moving preacher went on lecture tours, challenging racial and gender inequality.

DELANA FLOWERS: You need not be afraid to give us our rights for fear that we will take too much.

ELISE PRESTON: Truth even met with President Lincoln, so it's fitting a sculpture of her sits in Emancipation Hall, the first to honor a black woman in the United States Capitol. Elise Preston, CBS News, New York.