The 5 Best Books on Sojourner Truth

Essential Books on Sojourner Truth

sojourner truth books

There are numerous books on Sojourner Truth, and it comes with good reason, she was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist who, after being born into slavery, escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. Truth also went to court to recover her son in 1828, and in doing so, became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.

“I feel safe in the midst of my enemies, for the truth is all powerful and will prevail,” she remarked.

In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of America’s most consequential figures to the heights of societal contribution, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best books on Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol by Nell Irvin Painter

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.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth by Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth (born Isabella (Belle) Baumfree) was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.

She gave herself the name Sojourner Truth in 1843 after she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside “testifying the hope that was in her.” Her best-known speech was delivered extemporaneously, in 1851, at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. The speech became widely known during the Civil War by the title “Ain’t I a Woman?,” a variation of the original speech re-written by someone else using a stereotypical Southern dialect; whereas Sojourner Truth was from New York and grew up speaking Dutch as her first language.

During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black troops for the Union Army; after the war, she tried unsuccessfully to secure land grants from the federal government for former slaves. Truth started dictating her memoirs to her friend Olive Gilbert, and in 1850 William Lloyd Garrison privately published her book, The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Sojourner Truth’s America by Margaret Washington

Organized chronologically into three distinct eras of Truth’s life, this gem among books on Sojourner Truth examines the complex dynamics of her times, beginning with the transnational contours of her spirituality and early life as Isabella and her embroilments in legal controversy. Truth’s awakening during nineteenth-century America’s progressive surge then propelled her ascendancy as a rousing preacher and political orator despite her inability to read and write.

Washington explores Truth’s passionate commitment to family and community, including her vision for a beloved community that extended beyond race, gender, and socioeconomic condition and embraced a common humanity. For Sojourner Truth, the significant model for such communalism was a primitive, prophetic Christianity.

Accomplished: African American Women in Victorian America by Monroe A. Majors

Reconstruction after the Civil War was fraught with overwhelming new challenges for millions of African Americans, not all of whom were recently-emancipated slaves. The next 100 years would see a struggle for American citizens to claim full citizenship and to end the reign of terror that accompanied emancipation.

Yet flourishing in this cauldron of oppression were people who, despite being held down not only because of their race but also because of their sex, succeeded beyond what their birth circumstances would have predicted. They were businesswomen, teachers, doctors, lawyers, poets, singers, agitators, scientists, and mathematicians.

Dr. Monroe A. Majors wrote this volume in 1893 to let the world know that women of color were helping to lead the way to a new order. Some of the names you’ll be familiar with, like Elizabeth Keckley and Sojourner Truth. But from Octavia Albert to Anna Zinga, Majors presents sketches of over 100 women of note whom most of America no longer remembers.

Ain’t I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth

Here is the stirring, award-winning biography of Sojourner Truth – preacher, abolitionist, and activist for the rights of African-Americans and women.

A House Built by Slaves by Jonathan W. White

Jonathan White illuminates why Lincoln’s unprecedented welcoming of African American men and women to the White House transformed the trajectory of race relations in the United States. From his 1862 meetings with Black Christian ministers, Lincoln began inviting African Americans of every background into his home, from ex-slaves from the Deep South to champions of abolitionism such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

More than a good-will gesture, the president conferred with his guests about the essential issues of citizenship and voting rights. Drawing from an array of primary sources, White reveals how African Americans used the White House as a national stage to amplify their calls for equality. Even 155 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s inclusion of African Americans remains a necessary example in a country still struggling from racial divisions today.


If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Sojourner Truth, check out our list of The 5 Best Books on Harriet Tubman!