A monumental biography of one of the most important black women of the nineteenth century.
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.
A successful effort to separate a human being from the familiar "Strong Black Woman" symbol she has become. A powerful speaker who moved audiences to laughter even as she delivered harsh truths about slavery and discrimination, Sojourner Truth has in Painter (Standing at Armageddon, 1987, etc.) a congenial biographer whose work is as readable as it is scholarly. Information on Truth is frustratingly incomplete, but Painter shines when striving to separate facts from myths and assemble those facts into a reasonable whole. A slave in upstate New York until 1827, Truth gained from her intense involvement with Methodism a sense of self-worth as well as an opportunity to speak publicly at religious camp meetings around New York City. Following a curious period of attachment to the self-styled Prophet Matthias (to whom she gave her devotion and all her money), Truth joined a Massachusetts cooperative community, where she met some of her future antislavery contacts. Central to the story of her growing celebrity is, of course, the 1851 Ohio Women's Rights Convention, where, Painter convincingly argues, Truth made an effective speech - but not the expanded "ar'n't I a woman" showstopper printed 12 years later by Frances Dana Gage. Likewise punctured are embellished accounts of Truth's meeting with Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe's largely fanciful Atlantic Monthly sketch of Truth, early examples of how various people (including, in this century, academics) craft "a usable Sojourner Truth of their own," emphasizing whatever they need her to be: slave, black, female, radical, or quaint. In this account, Truth is shrewd but angry, calling, Painter says, for revenge on "'white people' - not 'slaveholders' or 'white southerners,' or any narrower subset of the guilty." That being so, one wishes Painter had contemplated more fully what this means coming from a woman who seems to have had an abundance of enduring white contacts but fewer blacks ones. No one seriously interested in Sojourner Truth can afford to ignore this book. (Kirkus Reviews)