“The portrait for the carte-de-visite of Sojourner Truth, the African-American abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, was taken in Battle Creek, Mich., in the 1860s (Slide 5). She wears an elegant silk dress and shawl. With one hand resting on her hip, the other on the arm of the chair, her pose is majestic and determined. She stares resolutely into the camera.
But it is the object in her lap that remains one of the image’s most revelatory details: an open daguerreotype of her grandson James Caldwell, a soldier during the Civil War.
The daguerreotype’s pride of place speaks not only to Truth’s love for her grandchild but also to her passionate engagement with photography. As Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer write in their groundbreaking new book, “Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery” (Temple University Press), Truth was probably the first black woman to actively distribute photographs of herself.
Those pictures were meant to affirm her status as a sophisticated and respectable “free woman and as a woman in control of her image.” The public’s fascination with carte-de-visites, small and collectible card-mounted photographs, allowed her to advance her abolitionist cause to a huge audience and earn a living through their sale. “I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance,” proclaimed the famous slogan for these pictures.”
-Maurice Berger reviewing Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer
Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer