64. O Street and Wisconsin Avenue

Courtesy of Andrena Crockett

Sojourner Truth

Born into slavery sometime around 1797 under the name Isabella Baumfree, she experienced the hardships of slavery and eventually ran away from her owner in protest of his failure to live up to a promise to emancipate her ahead of a state law that would have made her free. She then sued John Dumont, her former master, for illegally selling her five-year-old son and won her case. She was one of the first Americans to use photography to build her celebrity and earn a living. Each carte de visite—a small photograph mounted on a card—was, in days before television and social media, its own form of viral marketing. They were also used as an early form of photographic advertising, spreading the never-before-seen faces of political leaders and public figures. The cards were so novel that they sparked a craze. (Source: NY Times) She copyrighted her images and used proceeds from the sales to fund her speaking tours. (Source: The Smithsonian Institute)

In March 1865, The District of Columbia passed an ordinance barring streetcar discrimination.  On a visit to the District, Olive Gilbert, the author of the ​Narrative of Sojourner Truth​, recorded the following incident in Georgetown.

At another time, she [Sojourner] was sent to Georgetown to obtain a nurse of the hospital, which being accomplished they went to the station and took seats in an empty car but had not proceeded are before two ladies came in, and seating themselves opposite the colored women began a whispered conversation, frequently casting scornful glances at the latter. The nurse, for the first time in her life finding herself in one sense on a level with white folk and being much abashed, hung her poor old head nearly down to her lap; but Sojourner, nothing daunted, looked fearlessly about. At length one of the ladies called out, in a weak, faint voice, ‘Conductor, conductor, does niggers ride in these cars?’ He hesitatingly answered, ‘Ye-yea-yes” to which she responded, ‘Tis a shame and a disgrace. They ought to have a nigger car on the track.’ Sojourner remarked, ‘of course colored people ride in these cars. Street cars are designed for poor white and colored folks. Carriages are for ladies and gentlemen. There are carriages [pointing out the window] standing ready to take you three or four miles for sixpence, and then you talk of a nigger car!!!’ Prompting acting on this hint, they arose to leave. ‘Ah’ said Sojourner, ‘now they are going to take a carriage. Good-by ladies.’

(Source: Black Georgetown Remembered)