Bringing history: Sojourner Truth descendant and author Barbara Allen shares how she honors the abolitionist icon’s legacy

SUNY New Paltz welcomed children’s book author Barbara Allen, a sixth-generation granddaughter of Sojourner Truth, for a moving tribute to the pioneering abolitionist and women’s rights activist. 

Her Oct. 5 talk was truly a homecoming, with Allen returning to her ancestor’s birthplace of Ulster County and speaking in a University library that bears Truth’s name.  

Allen rose to the moment, sharing stories that illustrate how her own history is interwoven with that of Sojourner Truth. 

“I try to bring history, so we don’t lose it,” she said. “I want for children to learn who she truly was.” 

Allen began with a summary of her legendary ancestor’s journey. After emancipating herself in Ulster County, Truth traveled all around the U.S. evangelizing for emancipation. She later settled in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Allen was born and raised.

“Sojourner was a change agent who knew that once common ground was found, the lives of others would be changed,” she said. “She strongly believed that African Americans and women belong. It is our responsibility to learn from her that we must keep dialogues open, forgive those who have wronged us, and pursue common ground.”  

As a child, Allen was steeped in stories and artifacts of Truth’s life, passed on down through the generations in her family. When many of these priceless pieces were destroyed in a house fire, Allen was inspired to memorialize Truth for younger generations. 

Today, she is the author of two children’s books, “Remembering Great Grandma Sojourner Truth” and “Journey with Great Grandma Sojourner Truth,” which promote and instill the values of freedom, faith, forgiveness, and perseverance that Truth’s story taught her.  

As a token of appreciation for her visit, Sojourner Truth Library Dean Susan Frey presented Allen with a limited-edition card featuring Truth’s original 1986 commemorative U.S. postage stamp 

“This is a phenomenal legacy event, and it’s not always that you get an opportunity to engage with a living descendant,” said President Darrell P. Wheeler.

The event concluded with a Q&A so the gathered crowd could engage with Allen on Truth’s legacy. One such comment came from Gianna Celso ‘25 (English; Early Childhood Education), who currently works at the Library as a student employee. 

“I feel like I have this connection to Sojourner Truth through this work,” Celso said, “and meeting her descendant showed me how important it is for children to remember history and the trailblazers of marginalized communities.”  

More information on Sojourner Truth’s life and work is available through this special collection at the Sojourner Truth Library.