Stuff YOU Should Know

Posted by on Jun 29, 2022 in Stuff You Should Know

Sojourner Truth’s Legal Petition

In 1828, Isabella Van Wagenen walked into a courthouse in Kingston, New York, to petition a white man to release her nine-year-old son, Peter, from illegal enslavement in Alabama. Peter was released from enslavement on March 15, 1828. It is believed that this case was the first time that an African American woman successfully sued a white man to have her child released from enslavement.  

a photograph of Sojourner Truth, taken by  Randall Studio
A photograph of Sojourner Truth

Unfortunately, the story did not have a happy ending after all. Though Peter was reunited with his mother, he remained traumatized by his experiences while enslaved. Eventually, he took a job on an East Coast whaling ship and died at sea. But Isabella went on to live a remarkable life as an important abolitionist and women’s rights activist under her new name: Sojourner Truth. She fought for causes ranging from prison reform and property rights to universal suffrage and pacifism. She spoke at the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850 and is perhaps most famous for her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech. 

The historical records of the Van Wagenen case were transferred several times until they finally arrived at the New York State Archives in Albany, New York, in 1982. There they remained until June 9, 2022, when they were uncovered by an archivist named Jim Folts. On June 15, 2022, the papers were displayed to the public for the first time, for one day only. 

What Do You Think? In your opinion, what was Sojourner Truth’s most important contribution to history? Explain. 

Rhode Island Students Sue for Education

Does your school require you to take a Civics class? Thirty states require a half-year of instruction on government or civics. Only nine states and the District of Columbia require students to take a full year of government or Civics class. Eleven states have no Civics requirements at all. Even with these required courses, many Americans are uniformed about their own government. For example, a 2016 survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only just over a quarter of Americans can name all three branches of government.  

 A group of fourteen public school students from Providence, Rhode Island, decided to take their civics education into their own hands. In 2018, they filed a class-action lawsuit arguing that all students have a Constitutional right to a civics education to prepare them to participate meaningfully in their own democracy. On June 10, 2022, the Rhode Island District Court finally reached a settlement on the case, known as Cook v. McKee.  

The ruling requires the creation of a civic education task force called the Rhode Island Civic Readiness Task Force. This task force will help advise the state on ways that students can become more involved in, and informed about, their democracy. Some of the students involved in the lawsuit will be included as members in this task force, which will be formed no later than September 1, 2022. The fifteen members of the task force may also include educators, parents, and other community members. Rhode Island will also offer a Diploma Seal of Civic Readiness to graduating high school seniors who can show a high level of Civics proficiency and complete a capstone project that involves active community involvement. 

Dig Deeper What are the Civics and/or American Government requirements for high school graduation in your state? Use Internet resources to find out.