Sojourner Truth

Slave, Prophet, Legend

312 pages

24 illustrations

March, 1995

ISBN: 9780814755259




An acclaimed author, Carleton Mabee has written the Pulitzer- Prize winning American Leonardo: A Life of Samuel F. B. Morse; also Black Education in New York State, which won the John Ben Snow Prize; and Black Freedom: The Nonviolent Abolitionists from 1830 through the Civil War, which won the Anisfield-Wolf Award.

All books by Carleton Mabee

Many Americans have long since forgotten that there ever was slavery along the Hudson River. Yet Sojourner Truth was born a slave near the Hudson River in Ulster County, New York, in the late 1700s. Called merely Isabella as a slave, once freed she adopted the name of Sojourner Truth and became a national figure in the struggle for the emancipation of both blacks and women in Civil War America.

Despite the discrimination she suffered as both a black and a woman, Truth significantly shaped both her own life and the struggle for human rights in America. Through her fierce intelligence, her resourcefulness, and her eloquence, she became widely acknowledged as a remarkable figure during her life, and she has become one of the most heavily mythologized figures in American history.

While some of the myths about Truth have served positive functions, they have also contributed to distortions about American history, specifically about the history of blacks and women. In this landmark work, the product of years of primary research, Pulizter-Prize winning biographer Carleton Mabee has unearthed the best available sources about this remarkable woman to reconstruct her life as directly as the most original and reliable available sources permit. Included here are new insights on why she never learned to read, on the authenticity of the famous quotations attributed to her (such as Ar'n't I a woman?), her relationship to President Lincoln, her role in the abolitionist movement, her crusade to move freed slaves from the South to the North, and her life as a singer, orator, feminist and woman of faith. This is an engaging, historically precise biography that reassesses the place of Sojourner Truth—slave, prophet, legend--in American history.

Sojourner Truth is one of the most famous and most mythologized figures in American history. Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer Carleton Mabee unearths heretofore-neglected sources and offers valuable new insights into the life of a woman who, against all odds, became a central figure in the struggle for the emancipation of slaves and women in Civil War America.


  • "This first-rate biography presents us with a heroine considerably more interesting--more original, more powerful—than the personality sentimentalists have often portrayed."

    The New Yorker

  • "Mabee chronicles Truth's life with restrained passion, refusing to fall into the traps of history by accepting what has merely been repeated...It is impressive in its depth, sparking a new interest in the woman being unveiled--a woman so many of us thought we already knew."

    The Boston Globe

  • "I am particulary impressed with the extremely high quality of the primary research and with the presentation of specific historical evidence on areas of Truth's life. . . . that have been mythologized by other writers. The book is obviously the result of years of careful and laborious sifting through antislavery newspapers and memoirs of Truth's activist associates. . . . [and] makes an invaluable contribution to our understanding of this woman's public life and her relationship to the reform movements of nineteenth-century America. Equally important, in a tempered and reasoned way, it presents us with an object lesson in how political movements (perhaps necessarily) attempt to appropriate. . . . historical hero figures for their own purposes.

    Sojourner Truth will stimulate lively discussions among both academics and nonacademics interested in the history of race relations in the United States."

    —Jean Humez, author of Gifts of Power: The Writings of Rebecca Jackson, Black Visionary, Shaker Eldress