Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol
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Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol

3.98 of 5 stars 3.98  ·  rating details  ·  347 ratings  ·  18 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 17th 1997 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 1st 1996)
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Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. WashingtonAfricana by Kwame Anthony AppiahW.E.B. Du Bois by David Levering LewisSojourner Truth by Nell Irvin PainterThurgood Marshall by Juan Williams
Black Caucus of the ALA Awards - Non-fiction
4th out of 61 books — 9 voters
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Black biography
51st out of 106 books — 19 voters


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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 m...more
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...more
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.
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...more
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...more
Heather
This was a well researched book; sometimes a bit on the dry side, but very interesting none the less. The author focused heavily on trying to show Sojourner Truth the person, separate from the myth that she became. Interesting thing is that the myth of the Truth persona was already forming while Truth was still alive, and she allowed (encouraged?) the growth of the myth. The famous "Ain't I a Woman?" phrase is in all likelihood part of the myth, having been reported 12 years after the fact. I re...more
Ned Bustard
This is good history and a good read
Lilmissbookworm
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.
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.
Theresa
Wonderful historical biography.
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.

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.
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.
Georgia 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.
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.
Starbubbles
very insightful to a very interesting life. it's awe inspiring how truth spun her lifestory to financially benefit herself, but also maintain a level of independence.
Alison
Love her strength and courage! Love her. Wish I could have met her... maybe, somewhere else I will.
Ashley
Nell Painter is a fabulous writer who helped me really know Ms. Sojourner.
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