Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

A Life, A Symbol

Book - 1996
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Sojourner Truth first gained prominence at an 1851 Akron, Ohio, women's rights conference, saying, "Dat man over dar say dat woman needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches. . . . Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober mud-puddles . . . and ar'n't I a woman?"

Sojourner Truth: ex-slave and fiery abolitionist, figure of imposing physique, riveting preacher and spellbinding singer who dazzled listeners with her wit and originality. Straight-talking and unsentimental, Truth became a national symbol for strong black women--indeed, for all strong women. Like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, she is regarded as a radical of immense and enduring influence; yet, unlike them, what is remembered of her consists more of myth than of personality.

Now, in a masterful blend of scholarship and sympathetic understanding, eminent black historian Nell Irvin Painter goes beyond the myths, words, and photographs to uncover the life of a complex woman who was born into slavery and died a legend. Inspired by religion, Truth transformed herself from a domestic servant named Isabella into an itinerant pentecostal preacher; her words of empowerment have inspired black women and poor people the world over to this day. As an abolitionist and a feminist, Truth defied the notion that slaves were male and women were white, expounding a fact that still bears repeating: among blacks there are women; among women, there are blacks.

No one who heard her speak ever forgot Sojourner Truth, the power and pathos of her voice, and the intelligence of her message. No one who reads Painter's groundbreaking biography will forget this landmark figure and the story of her courageous life.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, c1996
ISBN: 9780393027396
Characteristics: xii, 370 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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Apr 22, 2020

A life, a symbol, yes! Painter tells the true story of Truth’s life, at least as well as it can be determined from the records available. In the telling, she explains why so little of value exists and why so much of what is told about Truth is unreliable. My conception of Sojourner Truth was greatly reworked from reading this book. We bought this book at least twenty years ago and somehow never got around to reading it until Covid19 sent us back to the shelves to see if there was anything we missed. Truth was a believer. Her religious affiliations changed, but she always felt a personal relationship with her God, unmediated by church hierarchies. This strong faith sustained her through all her efforts. Painter is particularly interested in Truth as a symbol and in how she was and has been used by others to promote their aims. The author argues that because of representations by others, many of whom had no direct personal knowledge of her as a human being, it is difficult to counter misapprehensions about the real woman.
We are now engaged in reading Truth’s own “Narrative of Sojourner Truth,” her story as told to a close friend, because Truth was illiterate. Olive Gilbert published in 1850, although Truth continued to preach, advocate, and work as an activist almost to the day of her death in 1883.


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