In the fall of 1864, Sojourner Truth traveled to Washington, D.C. to work in refugee camps set up by the government to administer to the freed people escaping the ravages of the Civil War. She taught sewing, knitting, and cooking, and gave speeches in which she exhorted the freed people to "learn to be independent - learn industry and economy - and above all strive to show the people that they could be something." This plain talk, along with admonitions not to live "off the government," got her thrown out of at least one gathering of freed people.
When the U.S. economy fell into a slump at the end of the war, fiscal and political pressures led to the closing of the Freedmen's Bureau and their camps in 1868. Truth and other volunteers attempted to keep the Bureau's efforts alive, particularly by finding employment, usually in northern cities, for the refugees. Although they secured work for over 8,000 refugees between 1865 and 1868, they were ultimately foiled by a slow labor market, and by the reluctance on the part of refugees to relocate to unknown cities away from their families.
For Truth, the plight of the refugees was particularly distressing. Unemployment was a moral issue for her, for only through work would black men and women free themselves from government handouts and stride ahead. As an itinerant preacher, Truth had little sympathy for those unwilling to journey in search of a goal. She saw the answer to the refugees' problems in an exodus, or resettlement to the West. She believed the government should allot lands to freed people, similar to Indian reservations. Her plan was cast in Biblical terms:
I have prayed so long that my people would go to Kansas, and that God would make straight the way before them. Yes, indeed! I think it is a good move for them. I believe as much in that move as I do in the moving of the children of Egypt going out to Canaan, just as much. ("Memorial" chapter of Narrative of Sojourner Truth, p. 19)
Truth wrote a petition to Congress, and then traveled the East coast, speaking and collecting signatures, between August of 1870 and March of 1871. Although her speeches were not always as powerful as they once had been - her age was catching up with her - she remained focused on her mission to secure lands for resettlement.
Truth traveled to Washington to present her petition to Congress in 1874. No records show that the petition was ever submitted, however, and Truth told a reporter in 1882 that it was ignored. She was forced to leave Washington for Michigan that same year when her grandson, Samuel Banks, fell ill and then later died.
Her dreams were finally realized in 1879 with the spontaneous exodus to Kansas of tens of thousands of poor blacks from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Tennessee. Between 1860 and 1880 the black population of Kansas swelled from 627 to over 43,000 as blacks, fearful of the growing white supremacy and violence in the South, sought a safer life in western states and territories.