Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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Because other biographies of Sojourner Truth, unusual even among ex-slave women as itinerant preacher and political activist, have been published in recent years, Painter's compelling life loses some of its edge. Yet it has additional strengths as 19th-century social history. 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. A striking presence on the platform, the subject of an as-told-to autobiography that went through many editions and helped sustain her financially, she seemed a born survivor, shedding slavery, abuse, poverty and prejudice during her 80-odd years (admirers claimed 110‘she died in 1883). Shrewd, and with a commonsense wit, possessed of such a thundering voice that skeptics wondered if she were a man, she was never, Painter asserts, a quaintly exotic innocent. Relying on biblical allusions that her "Bible-literate" audiences could amplify, she was spellbinding. Still, Painter reminds us, "Everything we know of Sojourner Truth comes through other people, mostly educated white women," for, despite decades of involvement with liberal, even radical, intellectuals, she remained illiterate. Cutting through the image-making of her contemporaries as well as later interpreters who envision Sojourner Truth as the symbol of the strong woman, "black or not," Painter persuasively offers us the real woman behind the myth. Photos. Author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this biography, Painter (history, Princeton Univ.) traces Truth's life and legacy, detailing her early life as Isabella, who was born a slave; her self-transformation to Sojourner Truth; and her strength and perseverance in pursuing her causes. (LJ 9/1/96) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Sojourner Truth's remarkable career as a powerful, impassioned speaker and advocate of abolitionism and women's rights spanned more than 30 years. Painter (Standing at Armageddon: The United States 1877-1919, LJ 9/15/87), who teaches history at Princeton, traces Truth's life and legacy using a variety of sources, including her many photographs. The first section deals with her early life as Isabella, who was born a slave in New York State, and with the beginning of her lifelong religious searching and preaching. Part 2 describes her self-transformation in the mid-1840s to Sojourner Truth and her strength and perseverance in pursuing her causes. A final section addresses the symbolic impact of her life down to the present day. This scholarly study complements two recent biographies: Carleton Mabee's Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend (New York Univ., 1993) and Erlene Stetson's Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth (Michigan State Univ., 1994), a study emphasizing Truth's oratory. For public and academic libraries as well as special collections in women's and African American studies.‘Patricia A. Beaber, Trenton State Coll. Lib., N.J. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Painter has done US history a service with this book on ex-slave, African American, and women's-rights advocate Sojourner Truth. Truth's life began as a slave named Isabella, involved the spiritualism of the "burnt over district," grew as an abolitionist preacher-singer, and matured as a fiery women's rights advocate. Her stature and speeches made her an icon of these movements. Painter writes of this strong women with empathy, but also recounts how other major spokespersons of the era shaped and used her reputation for their own causes and purposes. The best-known stories about her were seldom accurate, but she learned to use the power of the symbolism that they gave her to add strength to her own causes. This is an excellent account of Truth, but a better reminder of the difficulty of recounting "truth." In the context of the Civil War and of the current cultural wars, Painter reminds amateur and professional historians to weigh the choice between myths and accuracy. Recommended for all libraries. J. H. Smith Wake Forest University