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Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  721 Ratings  ·  27 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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mis fit
Apr 04, 2015 mis fit rated it really liked it
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
Joshunda Sanders
Apr 10, 2010 Joshunda Sanders rated it really liked it
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
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
Jun 29, 2012 Drakeflock rated it it was ok
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
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
Rachael Ryerson
Nov 02, 2014 Rachael Ryerson rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Ebony Jones-Kuye
Jul 12, 2015 Ebony Jones-Kuye rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 16, 2012 Zora rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 20, 2013 Bev rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 23, 2012 Julie rated it liked it
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.

Nov 15, 2013 Liyaan rated it really liked it
'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.
Feb 22, 2013 Daniel rated it really liked it
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
Jan 31, 2013 Georgia Butler rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 09, 2009 Stephanie rated it liked it
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.
Jun 05, 2014 Eve rated it it was amazing
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.
Waheedah Bilal
Sep 19, 2012 Waheedah Bilal rated it it was amazing
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.
“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:
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
Jan 30, 2015 Dawn rated it it was amazing
I had to read this for Literature in school and I thought it was simply amazing! A great read and very historical. Great story of life of slaves in that era.
Sep 09, 2008 Starbubbles rated it it was amazing
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.
Mike Jones
Mike Jones rated it it was amazing
Aug 19, 2014
Jamie rated it really liked it
Mar 05, 2012
Maria Belfield
Maria Belfield rated it really liked it
Apr 29, 2016
Jennifer Graber
Jennifer Graber rated it really liked it
Dec 10, 2012
Jessica rated it really liked it
Nov 27, 2012
Courtney rated it liked it
Jan 06, 2014
راندا ميلاد
راندا ميلاد rated it it was amazing
Jun 23, 2014
Jo Gavin
Jo Gavin rated it really liked it
Jan 04, 2016
Andrew rated it it was ok
Aug 13, 2012
AquarianBeauty rated it it was amazing
Apr 17, 2015
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Nell Irvin Painter is an American historian notable for her works on southern history of the nineteenth century. She is retired from Princeton University, and served as president of the Organization of American Historians. She also served as president of the Southern Historical Association.

She was born Nell Irvin to Dona and Frank E. Irvin, Sr. She had an older brother Frank who died young. Her fa
More about Nell Irvin Painter...

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