Enduring Truths: Sojourner's Shadows and Substance

Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby
Berkeley Book Chats
Enduring Truth Book Cover Image
Wednesday, Nov 4, 2015 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall
United States

Professor of Art History Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby specializes in eighteenth- through early twentienth-century French art and visual and material culture, particularly in relation to colonial politics. In her new book, Enduring Truths. Sojourner's Shadows and Substance (University of Chicago Press, 2015), she uncovers how Sojourner Truth made her photographic portrait worth money in order to end slavery—and also became the strategic author of her public self.

Runaway slave Sojourner Truth gained fame in the nineteenth century as an abolitionist, feminist, and orator and earned a living partly by selling photographic carte de visite portraits of herself at lectures and by mail. Similar in format to calling cards, cartes de visite were relatively inexpensive collectibles that quickly became a new mode of mass communication. Despite being illiterate, Truth copyrighted her photographs in her name and added the caption “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance. Sojourner Truth.”

Featuring the largest collection of Truth’s photographs ever published, Enduring Truths is the first book to explore how she used her image, the press, the postal service, and copyright laws to support her activism and herself. Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby establishes a range of important contexts for Truth’s portraits, including the strategic role of photography and copyright for an illiterate former slave; the shared politics of Truth’s cartes de visite and federal banknotes, which were both created to fund the Union cause; and the ways that photochemical limitations complicated the portrayal of different skin tones.

After an introduction by Makeda Best (Visual and Critical Studies, California College of the Arts), Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby will speak briefly about her work and then open the floor for discussion.

View the San Francisco Chronicle's recent article about Grigsby's research here.


Part of the 
Thinking the Self Initiative.