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Though she was born into slavery and subjected to physical and sexual abuse by her owners, Sojourner Truth came to represent the power of individual strength and perseverance. She championed the disadvantaged--black in the South, women in the North--yet spent much of her free life with middle-class whites, who supported her, yet never failed to remind her that she was a se Though she was born into slavery and subjected to physical and sexual abuse by her owners, Sojourner Truth came to represent the power of individual strength and perseverance. She championed the disadvantaged--black in the South, women in the North--yet spent much of her free life with middle-class whites, who supported her, yet never failed to remind her that she was a second class citizen. Slowly, but surely, Sojourner climbed from beneath the weight of slavery, secured respect for herself, and utilized the distinction of her race to become not only a symbol for black women, but for the feminist movement as a whole.


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Though she was born into slavery and subjected to physical and sexual abuse by her owners, Sojourner Truth came to represent the power of individual strength and perseverance. She championed the disadvantaged--black in the South, women in the North--yet spent much of her free life with middle-class whites, who supported her, yet never failed to remind her that she was a se Though she was born into slavery and subjected to physical and sexual abuse by her owners, Sojourner Truth came to represent the power of individual strength and perseverance. She championed the disadvantaged--black in the South, women in the North--yet spent much of her free life with middle-class whites, who supported her, yet never failed to remind her that she was a second class citizen. Slowly, but surely, Sojourner climbed from beneath the weight of slavery, secured respect for herself, and utilized the distinction of her race to become not only a symbol for black women, but for the feminist movement as a whole.

30 review for Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol

  1. 5 out of 5

    mis fit

    So I was really excited to read this (not disappointed), though it got lost in the shuffle of moving and my thoughts are all disjointed. I love how the author organizes the book in terms of Truth's actual life and then how she has been used as a symbol by various people and movements. Finally got the back story on Ain't I a Woman and how it was re-written in southern black dialect. But the thing is, Truth was from New York and spoke Dutch. And this brings me to the point that U.S. slavery has bec So I was really excited to read this (not disappointed), though it got lost in the shuffle of moving and my thoughts are all disjointed. I love how the author organizes the book in terms of Truth's actual life and then how she has been used as a symbol by various people and movements. Finally got the back story on Ain't I a Woman and how it was re-written in southern black dialect. But the thing is, Truth was from New York and spoke Dutch. And this brings me to the point that U.S. slavery has become so strongly tied to the South in mainstream discussion, though it's important to realize how fully the entire country has relied on slave labor and how closely it was tied to Northern interests as well as Southern. I kept thinking about this especially after the Charleston shooting and all the controversy over the Confederate flags. Yes, of course, bring them down. But a history of slavery and current racial divisions are not a simple racist South / enlightened North division. It's too easy. And it deflects away from the kinds of questioning that needs to happen throughout the whole country. Anyway, Truth was a complete badass. Her commitment to her spirituality was really interesting. A lot of the early connections she made with abolitionists and feminists came more from her being involved in religious communities with middle-class white people rather than from being an activist. Also, reading this book was really helpful in understanding her as a flawed, real person. She's a really important figure, and I highly recommend this one!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joshunda Sanders

    I had no idea that the caption for the cover image, which is the most popular image that remains of Sojourner Truth, is "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Painter's fascinating biography paints the fullest description of Truth's life I have read, puts Truth's own autobiography into context & includes a number of surprising (to me) elements including a 1858 "breast-baring incident" during which Truth showed her breasts to prove her womanhood and shame the audience of mainly white men; I had no idea that the caption for the cover image, which is the most popular image that remains of Sojourner Truth, is "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Painter's fascinating biography paints the fullest description of Truth's life I have read, puts Truth's own autobiography into context & includes a number of surprising (to me) elements including a 1858 "breast-baring incident" during which Truth showed her breasts to prove her womanhood and shame the audience of mainly white men; details about Truth's complicated religious history -- she was an illiterate itinerant preacher known for challenging Frederick Douglass by famously asking him, "Is God Dead?", but later in her life frequented seances and hung out with spiritualist Quakers -- and, at the end, asks the question of whether or not we are comfortable enough with the nuances of Truth's life to be more curious than we are about her trajectory rather than her usefulness as a symbol. A very intriguing and well-written biography.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Anastasia

    Nell Irvin Painter’s biography of Sojourner Truth is unique, I think, because of the author’s attempt, not only to accurately portray Truth’s life, but also to understand the making and value of Truth as a symbol. Before reading this book, I recommend making some notes on what you know about Sojourner Truth. You may be surprised at how wrong or incomplete your picture of her is. I learned several things that really stood out for me. One was that Truth was illiterate. Although she was reportedly Nell Irvin Painter’s biography of Sojourner Truth is unique, I think, because of the author’s attempt, not only to accurately portray Truth’s life, but also to understand the making and value of Truth as a symbol. Before reading this book, I recommend making some notes on what you know about Sojourner Truth. You may be surprised at how wrong or incomplete your picture of her is. I learned several things that really stood out for me. One was that Truth was illiterate. Although she was reportedly very well-spoken, we have to rely on accounts written by other people for access to what she (may not have) said, leaving the reality of Truth’s words open for debate. Another interesting fact is that Truth’s first language was Dutch! (She was actually a slave in New York state, not in the South) and so all those reports of her words written in that old time, slavey, Southern dialect are just plain false! Truth did have her photo taken and sold cards of her “shadow” as a means of supporting herself, so at least we do have real images of her rather than just artists’ renditions. Truth struck me as a very modern woman in the way she lived her life. After a short marriage, she apparently lived the rest of her life without marrying or partnering again. She traveled a lot, and often by herself, which was altogether rare then and even more so for a woman and an African-American. She was a Northerner, an urban person. She joined groups, lived in communes, and participated in a variety of interests throughout her life. I was deeply impressed with the way she rescued her son from slavery through legal means (NY outlawed slavery in about 1827, although enslaved people born after about 1800 would continue as indentured servants until about age 25. Truth’s son Peter was illegally sold to slaveholders in the South, where he would have remained enslaved until the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation). Truth went to court to get her son back, and she won! Even after reading this biography, I have a lot of unanswered questions about Sojourner’s life. When did she learn English? What was her sense of herself as a mother? (She left all of her children, except her one year old baby, still enslaved when she left slavery. One of her children was just two years old.) How is it that Truth’s estimation of her age was so off-base? (She never knew her exact age, and thought she was about 105 years old at the time of her death. I’m not sure how Irvin Painter arrived at Truth’s birth date -- I couldn’t find a reference in her sources-- but she pinpointed Truth’s birth to around 1797, making her about 86 when she died.) This work was sometimes very dry and scholarly, which makes sense since it was written by a historian who highly values scholarly work. I’m glad I read this, and now I long for a skilled writer to create a first-person, fictionalized account of Sojourner’s life and attempt to answer all my questions.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    “As an abolitionist and feminist, she put her body and her mind to a unique task, that of physically representing women who had been enslaved. At a time when most Americans thought of slaves as male and women as white, Truth embodied a fact that still bears repeating: Among the blacks are women; among the women, there are blacks.” About a month ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear The Reverend Doctor William Barber speak. (More information about him here: http://www.breachrepairers.org/.) “As an abolitionist and feminist, she put her body and her mind to a unique task, that of physically representing women who had been enslaved. At a time when most Americans thought of slaves as male and women as white, Truth embodied a fact that still bears repeating: Among the blacks are women; among the women, there are blacks.” About a month ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear The Reverend Doctor William Barber speak. (More information about him here: http://www.breachrepairers.org/.) He was speaking about the times in our history that religious groups had responded well to the issues of the day. Starting with Reconstruction after the Civil War, Barber gave an incredible history lesson to everyone in the room. As he spoke, Barber referenced a number of authors and histories. I wrote down all that information so I could read through them and learn some new things about my country’s history. With this first book, my eyes have been opened. I knew there was slavery in the North, I had heard that members of the Society of Friends in Philadelphia had owned slaves. I had never really considered what that meant. Who were the slaves? What happened to them after slavery was banned in the North? Were their lives any better or were they worse? This book answered questions that I didn’t even know I should be asking. Sojourner Truth was a slave in New York State. She and her family were enslaved, abused and taken advantage of through slavery and the aftermath. Her whole life was affected by her enslavement. I had no idea what Sojourner Truth’s life really was like. I knew the synopsis, the children’s tale of what Sojourner Truth did. There is so much more. Painter has written an amazing tale about a woman I really didn’t know. What makes it more remarkable is how few resources were available to Painter. To tell this life story took some incredible research. If you think you know Sojourner Truth, pick up this book. If you like to read about remarkable people who have overcome incredible odds, read this sooner than later. You will be amazed.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    I picked up this book because I was curious to learn more about Sojourner Truth beyond the vague outline I'd picked up: a nineteenth century African-American woman who'd campaigned for an end to slavery and for women's rights, a towering figure known for addressing a white audience with her famous "Ain't I a woman?" speech. And it turns out that preconceptions like that are Nell Irvin Painter is trying to undo with this biography. Painter ably demonstrates that Truth's life has been co-opted and I picked up this book because I was curious to learn more about Sojourner Truth beyond the vague outline I'd picked up: a nineteenth century African-American woman who'd campaigned for an end to slavery and for women's rights, a towering figure known for addressing a white audience with her famous "Ain't I a woman?" speech. And it turns out that preconceptions like that are Nell Irvin Painter is trying to undo with this biography. Painter ably demonstrates that Truth's life has been co-opted and transformed by the need of later writers—feminists, womanists, social justice activists in particular—to create an iconic image of a Strong Black Woman, often by ignoring the documentary evidence about Truth's life. Truth likely never said "Ain't I a woman?", but the myth is often more enticing (and less challenging) than the reality. I would actually have liked to have seen more of the book devoted an exploration of that symbolism, and to a dissection of the ways in which even eminent historians of American history like Linda Kerber have fallen prey to the myth-making. However, the space which Painter devotes to the postbellum women's rights movement in the States is very absorbing and makes good use of the sources (though I have to say, as a medievalist, I found Painter's frequent complaints about the paucity of the sources amusing—while it's true that they're fewer than we would like, and there are none from Truth's point of few as she was illiterate, there are still far more things that we know about Truth than we do about the vast majority of medieval European women, regardless of colour or social status.)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Ryerson

    Wow, I had no idea that the symbol of Truth does not necessarily match the lived life of Truth. Who knew, before Painter's careful consideration of documents produced around the "events" of Truth's life since Truth was unable to read or write,that the infamous phrase attributed to Truth, "ain't I a woman," was likely the construction of Frances Dana Gage writing twelve years after the event at which Truth gave that speech? Not to mention, this publication of Truth's speech came at a time when Ha Wow, I had no idea that the symbol of Truth does not necessarily match the lived life of Truth. Who knew, before Painter's careful consideration of documents produced around the "events" of Truth's life since Truth was unable to read or write,that the infamous phrase attributed to Truth, "ain't I a woman," was likely the construction of Frances Dana Gage writing twelve years after the event at which Truth gave that speech? Not to mention, this publication of Truth's speech came at a time when Harriet Beecher Stowe was experiencing enormous popularity and wealth over her abolitionist publications. Such a well-researched, carefully crafted narrative of Truth that puts into tension our socially, culturally constructed understanding and necessity for symbol of Truth with the complicated reality of Truth's life.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ebony Jones-Kuye

    Sojourner Truth is a strong female hero! She escaped with her children to New York to get away from slavery. She helped recruit African-Americans for the Union Army. She is known for her famous women's speech "Ain't I a woman?" Ms. Truth fought for slave freedom, women's rights, and the harsh treatment of African-American soldier's after the civil war until her death. This book is a beautiful well written story of Ms. Truth during a period that was hard for any African-American woman especially Sojourner Truth is a strong female hero! She escaped with her children to New York to get away from slavery. She helped recruit African-Americans for the Union Army. She is known for her famous women's speech "Ain't I a woman?" Ms. Truth fought for slave freedom, women's rights, and the harsh treatment of African-American soldier's after the civil war until her death. This book is a beautiful well written story of Ms. Truth during a period that was hard for any African-American woman especially one that spoke her mind. This book really made me admire Ms. Truth even more. I think this book should be a required reading during the 6th-9th grade.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Drakeflock

    So the Sojourner Truth we were all introduced to was a creation of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frances Dana Gage who found her fascinating and characterized her as a fierce and capativating presence that could quell an audience with her ready wit. In reality, Sojourner was a woman of courage, but deep reflection and common sense, who didn't seek the limelight, someone who wanted to protect her children and provide for herself. She was indeed courageous, clever, and wise beyong anyone's expctations So the Sojourner Truth we were all introduced to was a creation of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frances Dana Gage who found her fascinating and characterized her as a fierce and capativating presence that could quell an audience with her ready wit. In reality, Sojourner was a woman of courage, but deep reflection and common sense, who didn't seek the limelight, someone who wanted to protect her children and provide for herself. She was indeed courageous, clever, and wise beyong anyone's expctations of a black woman but,she was in fact a complicated and multi-faceted personality. Unfortunately, she couldn't write or else we would have more printed material that would speak to her story from her own hand. I would like for Painter to have provided authenticated anecdotal stories of what Truth did say because the book seems to diminish what she said and accomplished in her many years of aboltionist and women's right advoacy...and maybe that was was she was intending to do, but was unable to honestly do so because Truth was but a poor and uneducated woman without the means to document her legacy. Maybe I was loooking for the "symbol" just like Painter accuses, as she explains: "Truth is consumed as a signifier and beloved for what we need her to have said. It is no accident that in each case, other people writing as well after the fact made up what we see as most meaningful." Stories were written about her years after the fact, and the further you get from the event, the less reliable it is; it is written nostalgically and given to stereotyping based on an accumulation of work. I still want to believe the myth. I admit it. I do. I was drawn to her by her bravery and her wise words in the face of prejudice. I loved her insight and her daring.And I still do.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Zora

    This is a great book because it deconstructs the construction of her as a mystical figure. We learn about her life and how she was an advocate for both women's rights as well as rights for African Americans. I really enjoyed reading about her and the work that she has done. It was a very good read, forming opinions from other works or earlier narratives. Good read if you want to find out who the real Sojourner Truth was. This is a great book because it deconstructs the construction of her as a mystical figure. We learn about her life and how she was an advocate for both women's rights as well as rights for African Americans. I really enjoyed reading about her and the work that she has done. It was a very good read, forming opinions from other works or earlier narratives. Good read if you want to find out who the real Sojourner Truth was.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Brilliant book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Basto

    This book is an exceptionally comprehensive book on the life of Sojourner Truth. Although it is written by an academic, the chronicle oftentimes reads like a novel, riveting and informative at the same time. Sojourner, born Isabella Von Waggen in Ulster Co, New York was born into northern slavery. She suffered many family losses including some of her own children. After she received a message from the Holy Spirit, she became Sojourner Truth and became involved not only in Spiritualist movements, This book is an exceptionally comprehensive book on the life of Sojourner Truth. Although it is written by an academic, the chronicle oftentimes reads like a novel, riveting and informative at the same time. Sojourner, born Isabella Von Waggen in Ulster Co, New York was born into northern slavery. She suffered many family losses including some of her own children. After she received a message from the Holy Spirit, she became Sojourner Truth and became involved not only in Spiritualist movements, some of shady origins such as the Cult of Brother Mattias but also spoke up and joined with not only abolitionists but suffragettes. Nell Irwin Painter works hard to dispel the myths of Sojourner and separates the truth from the legend. I always thought her famous speech,"Ain't I a Woman?" was true. It turns out that this aspect was created 12 years later by a journalist, Francis Dana Gage. This was a bit painful to acknowledge. The author explains the academic need to separate the truth from fiction, but no matter how hard she tried, she realized finally that people need their myths, their legends, even if they are not true and thus, Sojourner Truth has become the legend we know of her today. I would have liked to see more emotional content regarding her family issues with her children. Her relationship with her grandson is documented, but one never knew how she felt about her daughters and her burning need to constantly leave and work for humanity as a whole, rather than her family! A well written and excellent book overall!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bev

    One reason I appreciated this book is because of the research the author did to determine what was true (about Truth!) and what was exaggeration and fiction. Also how biases kept certain parts of Truth's story from being told. It was very interesting to learn that even well read people don't want to know the facts if it removes a symbol they've relied on and that symbols are very important to certain people. One reason I appreciated this book is because of the research the author did to determine what was true (about Truth!) and what was exaggeration and fiction. Also how biases kept certain parts of Truth's story from being told. It was very interesting to learn that even well read people don't want to know the facts if it removes a symbol they've relied on and that symbols are very important to certain people.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I first heard of Sojourner Truth in another book I was reading. She sounded very inspiring and I wanted to learn more. I was disappointed while reading her biography to learn that the inspiring situation was false. Truth was an amazing woman even without the false story and the real version is just as great as the fictionalized one.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liyaan

    'Sojourner Truth: A life, A symbol' is an inspiring book that tells her story in a clear way highlighting all of her achievements. The book opens your mind to the many things that a single human being can accomplish and change if they set their minds to it. In my opinion the author Nell Irvin Painter does the story justice. 'Sojourner Truth: A life, A symbol' is an inspiring book that tells her story in a clear way highlighting all of her achievements. The book opens your mind to the many things that a single human being can accomplish and change if they set their minds to it. In my opinion the author Nell Irvin Painter does the story justice.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    What I enjoyed about this book was that Painter goes back to the primary sources to get the real story about Sojourner Truth. From there, Painter studies the development of the Sojourner Truth the symbol and why it is the symbol that survives today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    P.K. Butler

    I enjoyed this book not only for the biography of Sojourner Truth but also for the nineteenth-century history of women's rights and the abolitionist movement. Must read for anyone interested in Women's Studies and/or Black History. I enjoyed this book not only for the biography of Sojourner Truth but also for the nineteenth-century history of women's rights and the abolitionist movement. Must read for anyone interested in Women's Studies and/or Black History.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Prior to reading this I knew next to nothing about its subject beyond a caricatured view, which Nell Irvin Painter completely overturns. But I'm definitely going to seek out Margaret Washington's more recent Truth biography as well. Prior to reading this I knew next to nothing about its subject beyond a caricatured view, which Nell Irvin Painter completely overturns. But I'm definitely going to seek out Margaret Washington's more recent Truth biography as well.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Waheedah Bilal

    Incredibly well-researched illuminating biography of Isabella Baumfree, who became Sojourner Truth. If you think you know anything about slavery or her, read this, you will find it illuminating.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eve

    I really enjoyed this - very readable, well researched, raises pertinent issues, and the examination of Truth as a person and as a symbol - and the creation of that symbol - is invaluable.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rita

    1996 I learned a lot from this book. Painter sets out to put Sojourner Truth [born Ulster Co. New York state c1797 as Isabella Van Wagenen-1883] in a broad context, and she succeeds. It's remarkable how little is known about this long-lived woman who was so much in the public eye and who gave so many speeches and sermons. She did not read and write, so not only do we have nothing that she herself wrote, her so-called autobiography seems to have been quite biased by the first woman who wrote it in 1996 I learned a lot from this book. Painter sets out to put Sojourner Truth [born Ulster Co. New York state c1797 as Isabella Van Wagenen-1883] in a broad context, and she succeeds. It's remarkable how little is known about this long-lived woman who was so much in the public eye and who gave so many speeches and sermons. She did not read and write, so not only do we have nothing that she herself wrote, her so-called autobiography seems to have been quite biased by the first woman who wrote it into a book, and then the next woman who added and changed it for later editions. TO READ: Representing Truth: 'Sojourner Truth's Knowing and Becoming Known'. By Nell Irvin Painter. Article [summarizing part of the book] publ 1994 J of Amer History -- read it on google search. Painter does a good job of pointing out and entangling the confusion of abolitionists and woman suffragists; some organizations were for both these things, others for only one. Truth got involved with all these variations at one time or another. Her first 9 years she spoke Dutch, as that was the language of her masters. She never lived in the South, and would have spoken the same dialect of English as her 2nd or 3rd set of white slave owners in NY state. [Whereas nearly every article written about her in her lifetime --always using her to further the agenda of the suffrage or abolition newsletter it was published in -- quotes from her speeches in extreme southern black dialect, which Painter argues could simply not have been the way she spoke at all. Truth purchased her first house in 1850 in Northampton Mass., and sold it in 1857, moving to Battle Creek Mich., where she eventually bought another house. She spent most of her speaking career [i.e. second half of her life] living with and speaking to white people. At the very end of the book, Painter sums up the reasons why a historian would find more credible the write-up of Truth's 1851 speech written AT THAT TIME by organization secretary Marius Robinson [p 125]. Power, powerful voice, soul, earnestness, gesture, simple and honest. Painter then tells several incidents and exchanges in reaction to this claim of her that convinced her that accuracy aside, people [including scholars of history!] NEED a the myth/legend of Sojourner Truth as a Strong Heroic Angry black woman who electrified white audiences and silenced them. A myth ["symbol" for Painter] that ignores and denies her vulnerabilities. Truth's earlier [1832-35] devotion to a charlatan who proclaimed himself Matthias the Prophet shows her gullibility. p59: "A chasm seems to separate the strong, canny person who would create the legendary Sojourner Truth from the woman who stayed with a scoundrel who beat her up, suppressed her preaching, took her money, and made her do his housework for nothing...How could she submit to being bossed about by Matthias...?" Painter notes that this was not too different from the ambivalent relationship [maintained her whole life] with her slave-owner/family Dumont[?] when she was a teenager and young woman -- part friendly and supportive, part abusive. A NYC journalist Gilbert Vale investigated Matthias and is 'a rich source for information' about Truth. Vale got to know Truth through several interviews and describes her as SHREWD, which seems to me a pretty fair description after reading Painter's book. Truth was very aware of the value of money and how few ways she could get any. When she found there were white abolitionists and woman's suffragists who were willing to pay her [and provide lodging and transportation] to speak at their meetings and conventions, she was glad to do so. She saved, and was able to buy a house in Northampton. It wasn't until the summing-up chapter that I realized that Gilbert Vale's description of Truth was one of very few, so I went back and reread that early chapter. Also, how significant Marius Robinson's report of Truth's 1851 speech was; again I had to return to that chapter and reread it. Painter shows that the writer of the Autobiography had very much her own agenda, and the one or two later editors had *their* own agendas; also, the autobiography was a project Truth embarked on as a way to get some income, rather than any attempt at an accurate historical document of her life. As Vale noted, Truth was "not communicative". She used humor to good effect in her speeches. Painter notes that "the humor was shrewd, for it allowed her to get away with sharp criticism, but it permitted some of her hearers to ignore her meaning." p 129 RELIGION was extremely important to Truth, and this is probably ignored by most today who use Truth as a symbol. Truth spent many years with those of the movement [one of a great many at that time] called perfectionists, which Painter says we can think of as today's pentecostals. The Holy Spirit was important. A great many of the abolitionists and suffragists were also religious and Painter spends time describing each of these movements and beliefs and communities. Painter also says most everybody in those times knew their Bible backwards and forwards, and though Truth could not read, she had had others read the Bible to her and could cite many verses to advantage.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan Nuxoll

    This is a remarkable book. The author attempts to disentangle the woman and the symbol. This is complicated because she is a symbol to so many people. Moreover, there is minimal documentation on her life; she was illiterate, poor, and black, and such people are doomed to be forgotten. Because of that lack of documentation, people can readily use her to support a variety of causes. Even her name is symbolic—Sojourner Truth is a name that she took herself. Though the author does not comment on it, This is a remarkable book. The author attempts to disentangle the woman and the symbol. This is complicated because she is a symbol to so many people. Moreover, there is minimal documentation on her life; she was illiterate, poor, and black, and such people are doomed to be forgotten. Because of that lack of documentation, people can readily use her to support a variety of causes. Even her name is symbolic—Sojourner Truth is a name that she took herself. Though the author does not comment on it, I was struck by one of her famous lines—“Ar’n’t I a woman?” (a line that the author notes that others probably put in her mouth). Why was this not rendered as “Aren’t I woman?” What is the difference in pronunciation? I think the only reason for the apostrophe instead of an "e" is to signal that she is speaking in dialect, like any proper poor illiterate black woman. The author documents several cases in which her speech was rendered as dialect, though other a more reliable sources record her as speaking more proper English. Similarly, she was sometimes as being born in Africa and enslaved in the South. Neither are true, although both pseudo-historical facts could be leveraged to make points. I was impressed by the author’s tenacity in taking on this project. The last chapter suggests the difficulties that she faced. It seems that even well-educated, thoughtful individuals have a strong preference for a useful myth. Finally, the photographs used to illustrate this book are a critical part of this book. Sojourner Truth regularly distributed photographs of herself, and this book reproduces a number of the versions that she sold at one time or the other. Each of these photographs convey a powerful message (at least to me)—whatever else you may say, Sojourner Truth was a woman of dignity and worthy of respect. She was not a caricature.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol is a biography of Sojourner Truth, who is an African-American abolitionist and women's right activist. Nell Irvin Painter is an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century, wrote this biography. Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her s Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol is a biography of Sojourner Truth, who is an African-American abolitionist and women's right activist. Nell Irvin Painter is an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century, wrote this biography. Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist and women's rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son in 1828, she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man. Isabella Van Wagenen, a Pentecostalist domestic born into slavery about 1797 but who reinvented herself at 59 as an abolitionist orator, then into a fiery suffragist, is seen here through the prism of the religious, social, and political movements that animated her. Shrewd and with a commonsense wit, Sojourner Truth possessed a thundering voice that skeptics wondered if she was a man. Painter asserts a quaintly exotic innocent, where Truth relayed on biblical allusions so that her audiences could understand her point of view. Painter reminds the reader that everything known about Sojourner Truth comes through other people. Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol is written and researched rather well. Painter cuts through the image-making of her contemporaries as well as later interpreters who envision Sojourner Truth as the symbol of the strong woman, but persuasively offers readers the real woman behind the myth. All in all, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol is a well-written biography of Sojourner Truth and her amazing life from slave to activist.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Hazel

    I learned a great deal from this book about Sojourner Truth, about the suffrage movement & its internal divisions (racial & gender), about the problem of what/how to deal with emancipated black refugees. I am grateful for new insights and contexts. However, the author's techniques for scene setting, context aligning, and filling in the gaps about Truth drove me to distraction. Too much speculation. I learned a great deal from this book about Sojourner Truth, about the suffrage movement & its internal divisions (racial & gender), about the problem of what/how to deal with emancipated black refugees. I am grateful for new insights and contexts. However, the author's techniques for scene setting, context aligning, and filling in the gaps about Truth drove me to distraction. Too much speculation.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Challenge: Reading Women 2018 - African American Civil Rights (13). A review of the life of Isabella/Soujourner as northern slave, perfectionist (pentecostal), and suffrage/civil rights activist and how she was used and allowed herself to be used by various groups as a symbol, both in her own historical time and how that has carried forward to contemporary times. Very thought-provoking research and insights.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

    Nell Irvin Painter does an astonishing job with this biography -- combining comprehensive and detailed research and the broad sweep of history. An outstanding historian, she honestly confronts the problems of writing a biography of a woman who herself was illiterate (and thus the need to rely on others' transcriptions and reports of her renowned oratory) and who has become an icon of American history. Nell Irvin Painter does an astonishing job with this biography -- combining comprehensive and detailed research and the broad sweep of history. An outstanding historian, she honestly confronts the problems of writing a biography of a woman who herself was illiterate (and thus the need to rely on others' transcriptions and reports of her renowned oratory) and who has become an icon of American history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nip

    Impressive unraveling of the many myths and distortions that came out of self-named Sojourner Truth’s long life. Born into slavery to a Dutch family in upstate New York, her path to freedom and a life as an itinerant preacher, feminist and anti-slavery activist is truly remarkable. Then, as now, racism followed her every step of the way.

  27. 4 out of 5

    P.S. Winn

    The woman, Sojourner Truth, is an inspirational to all. Although people may feel compassion and empathy for the hardships, until you walk in someone's shoes you have no idea of what they overcome in life. This is a heart touching look at one special person in history. The woman, Sojourner Truth, is an inspirational to all. Although people may feel compassion and empathy for the hardships, until you walk in someone's shoes you have no idea of what they overcome in life. This is a heart touching look at one special person in history.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Wells

    One of the books I decided to read for Juneteenth. This was excellently organized with good information. I need books like this as a reminder slavery wasn’t only in the South as Ms Truth was a slave in New York.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Blue Rose

    As a biography it was not very approachable. It read more like a text book, and even the parts where it told about how dynamic her speeches were felt very stiff and detached.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Deacon Tom F

    Outstanding book about one of the most influential persons in American history

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