Sojourner Truth Was A New Yorker, and She Didn’t Say That


American Antiquarian Society
185 Salisbury Street
Worcester, MA 01609
United States

Sojourner Truth Was A New Yorker. Sojourner Truth was a New Yorker from the Hudson Valley, a fact of great importance in her own life but ordinarily overlooked in her historical persona. Even though American culture has become more attuned to Black history and more understanding of the complexities of Black identity, Truth is still unwittingly confused with Harriet Tubman, another figure of enormous historical importance who was from the South, from Maryland. Truth’s visibility in American history has grown enormously, but there is still a long way to go in order to grasp how New York State shaped the life and symbol of Sojourner Truth.

And She Didn’t Say That. The much-quoted rhetorical question commonly attributed to Sojourner Truth was the invention of a White woman journalist, Frances Dana Gage, who crafted a version of Truth in dialect twelve years after the fact. Gage’s phrase has encouraged an identification of Truth with southern slavery, obscured her New York identity, and frozen her in the role of a sort of magic Negro whose primarily role is saving White women.

Sojourner Truth was a great woman, a great Black woman, and a great American who campaigned indefatigably against slavery and sexism with intelligence and eloquence. Join us for this hybrid program as historian Nell Irvin Painter explores Sojourner Truth’s role a as a force for human rights, but also as a New Yorker who presented herself to the public in Narrative of Sojourner Truth and in her photographic portraits.

Nell Irvin Painter, Edwards Professor of American History, Emerita, Princeton University, is the author of scholarly books of history including the New York Times bestseller The History of White People; Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol an awardee of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association; and the National Critics Circle finalist Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2007, she has received honorary degrees from institutions such as Yale, Wesleyan, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Dartmouth and has served as president of the Organization of American Historians and the Southern Historical Association. After a Ph.D. in history from Harvard, she earned degrees in painting from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and the Rhode Island School of Design. Nell Painter lives and works in East Orange, New Jersey, and the Adirondacks. When not writing essays and drawing self-portraits, she makes artist’s books that visualize people and history, often in residencies such as MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross, and Bogliasco. She currently serves as Madame Chairman of MacDowell. In early 2024 Doubleday will publish a collection of her essays entitled I Just Keep Talking. She is working on a new book on Sojourner Truth, entitled Sojourner Truth Was a New Yorker, and She Didn’t Say That. Painter held a Peterson Fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society in 1991 allowing her to conduct research for her fourth book Sojourner Truth, A Life, A Symbol (1996). She was elected to membership in the Society in 1987 and served as a Councillor from 1995-1998.