Christianity Today Book Award of Merit in History/Biography (2024)
Sojourner Truth’s powerful voice calls to us through this evocative narrative of faith in action—and her words are more relevant than ever.
Though born into slavery, Sojourner Truth would defy the limits placed upon her as a Black woman to become one of the nineteenth century’s most renowned female preachers and civil rights advocates. In We Will Be Free, Nancy Koester chronicles her spiritual journey as an enslaved woman, a working mother, and an itinerant preacher and activist.
On Pentecost in 1827, the course of Sojourner Truth’s life was changed forever when she had a vision of Jesus calling her to preach. Though women could not be trained as ministers at the time, her persuasive speaking, powerful singing, and quick wit converted many to her social causes. During the Civil War, Truth campaigned for the Union to abolish slavery throughout the United States, and she personally recruited Black troops for the effort. Her activism carried her to Washington, DC, where she met Abraham Lincoln and ministered to refugees of Southern slavery. Truth’s faith-driven action continued throughout Reconstruction, as she aided freed people, campaigned for reparations, advocated for women’s rights, and defied segregation on public transportation.
Sojourner Truth’s powerful voice once echoed in the streets of Washington and New York. Her passion rings out again in Nancy Koester’s vivid writing. As the legacy of slavery and segregation still looms over the United States today, students of American history, Christians, and all interested readers will find inspiration and illumination in Truth’s story.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Alicia K. Jackson Acknowledgements Prologue: She Belongs to Humanity 1. Isabella, a Northern Slave 2. The Vision 3. Lost Sheep in Gotham 4. The Kingdom of Matthias 5. “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?” 6. The Lever of Truth 7. The Moral Reform Depot 8. “Make Me a Double Woman” 9. Between a Hawk and a Buzzard 10. “Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?” 11. “We Believe You Are a Man” 12. Showdown at the Angola Courthouse 13. “I Sell the Shadow” 14. Truth Goes to Washington 15. Reconstruction 16. Give Woman Her Rights 17. “I Go in for Agitating” 18. “My Name Was Up” 19. “We Shall All Be as One” Appendix: Three Versions of Truth’s Most Famous Speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” A Note on the Sources List of Abbreviations Notes Index
Nancy Koester holds a PhD in church history and has taught at both the college and seminary levels. She is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Her work focuses on nineteenth-century American history, especially the antislavery movement, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. She is inspired by women of that era who, though lacking basic rights, found ways to move the nation closer to its own ideals. Koester's 2013 publication with Eerdmans, Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life, won the Minnesota Book Award in 2015 in General Nonfiction. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband Craig.
Christianity Today “Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth . . . [is] a religious biography of a woman sometimes overshadowed by Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the pantheon of escaped slaves who helped free others from bondage. Truth’s story does not fit the conventional mold of a runaway slave. (In fact, she claimed she did not “run” away from her enslaver—she walked.) Nor did she always agree with Tubman and Douglass on issues of moral reform. Nor was she immune to some of the extreme religious views (and cults) that arose in her unique New York context. Yet Truth was one of the most extraordinary Americans to ever live. Her complexity is precisely why she has so much to offer us today.”
The Christian Century “For more than a decade, New Testament scholar Kavin Rowe has written thoughtful reflections on Christian ministry for Faith and Leadership. In this collection of those essays, Rowe frequently engages in winsome New Testament interpretation.”
“In We Will Be Free, Nancy Koester helps us move beyond the superficial knowledge we have of Sojourner Truth and takes us into the spirit of a woman whose life should inspire and inform us all. This is more than the biography of a single, remarkable woman, it tells the story of the whole nation—halting steps toward freedom, the risk and rewards of speaking the truth and, most of all, the unflagging hope that change is possible.” —Dr. Jemar Tisby, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism
“An engaging and illuminating biography of an American icon. Koester reveals that Sojourner Truth’s defense of human rights was driven by her deep faith in God. Christians fighting for racial and gender equality today will be inspired by this book.” —Dr. Catherine Brekus, Harvard Divinity School
“Nancy Koester’s We Will Be Free: The Life and Faith of Sojourner Truth uses Sojourner Truth’s words, along with firsthand accounts from the people around her, to narrate the icon’s journey from enslavement to the national stage amid racial violence and extreme poverty. The result is a biography animated by the activist’s wit, ideas, and affect. Adding to the corpus of knowledge about nineteenth-century freedwomen’s lives, Koester’s book amplifies Truth’s extraordinary contribution to our nation’s history.” —Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, Stanford University
“This biography of Sojourner Truth carefully and thoroughly documents her astonishing life, paying particular attention to the varying religious contexts that shaped her. From her early years of enslavement to her years fighting for abolition and the rights of women and freedpeople, Truth bravely crossed swords with the powers that be and occasionally with her own allies. Koester writes in a style that will appeal to broad audiences and incorporates the best historical scholarship and research. Sojourner Truth’s life receives a graceful and illuminating treatment here.” —Dr. Paul Harvey, University of Colorado
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