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Sojourner Truth brings message to Suffolk

More than 120 years after her death, Sojourner Truth is coming to Suffolk to speak about her life, her experiences and her story.

Kim Russell will portray the women’s rights activist and abolitionist in first-person in the show “I Sell the Shadow” at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on April 25 at 3 p.m.

“Sojourner Truth was a very self-driven woman,” Russell said of Truth, whose death in 1883 spurred one of the largest funeral processions in American history. “She succeeded on a national platform.”

After escaping from slavery, Truth overcame numerous other obstacles, including illiteracy, being African-American and being a woman, Russell said. Many scholars also believe she had dyslexia.

“Here is someone to be greatly admired, because she did not let those barriers stop her from doing what she thought was right,” Russell said. “I just love the fact we can look at this woman who, if you passed her on the street, you might look beyond her, but when you get to know her, you find out how rich her story is and how rich is the message she has to deliver.”

Born Isabella Baumfree, Truth was one of 13 children born to Elizabeth and James Baumfree on an estate in a Dutch settlement in upstate New York. She spoke only Dutch until the age of 9, when she was sold to her second master.

After she was sold several more times, the state of New York began in 1799 to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves. She left her master’s home with her infant daughter in the middle of the night, and wandered until she came upon the home of Isaac and Maria Van Wagenen, who took her in and paid her former master to be able to keep her.

After several court battles to free her children, Truth determined to become a traveling preacher. She dictated her memoirs and had them published, which gave her an income as she sold the books at her speaking engagements. Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I A Woman?” came at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Convention in 1854. During the Civil War, she worked to help free slaves and recruit black troops for the Union army. She died at the age of 86.

The Suffolk Center show will be an interactive experience, Russell said.

“Sojourner Truth will tell her story to the audience, but in turn, she expects the audience to give her feedback,” Russell said. “We expect audience participation.”

Ticket holders for the show can expect to learn, Russell said.

“It is a chance for me to teach, because that’s ultimately what we do,” she said. “Hopefully it will be a chance to dispel a few myths and create some new expectations of how we look at American history … I hope that they will laugh and sing and come away with a new perspective.”

To purchase tickets for the show, visit www.SuffolkCenter.org or call 923-2900.