NEW PALTZ — Professor Lynn Spangler’s compelling documentary on the life of Hudson Valley legend Sojourner Truth will be premiered on Thursday, March 1, at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The showing is free and open to the public. Truth was born into slavery in Ulster County, NY, over 200 years ago. Once freed at the age of 30, she became a dedicated advocate for the rights of both blacks and women. This documentary shows how Truth traveled the country and became renowned for her fearless devotion to her causes and the rallying speeches she made promoting them. But, as the film illustrates, Truth, who touched some of the most significant people and events in America’s past, has become as much a legend as she has a part of history.
Spangler said her film, “The Life and Legend of Sojourner Truth,” which she wrote, directed and produced, attempts to separate some of the myths of Truth’s life from the reality. Spangler, who is chair of the college’s Department of Communication and Media, said she chose to make a documentary about Truth because she looms so large in the area’s history. SUNY New Paltz even named its main library after Truth. Spangler’s film, which is the first to target a national, adult audience, is based on the written work of several scholars, including former New Paltz professors Carleton Mabee, who did the first scholarly research on her, and professor Gerald Soren, an expert on abolitionism. The film also relies on the work of Princeton historian Nell Painter, who wrote a book on Truth’s Life, and communication professor Roseanne Madziuk of Southwest Texas State University, who studied Truth’s rhetoric.
The documentary will include still images and voice-overs, in what Spangler calls the “Ken Burns style.” Local artists have contributed heavily to the film, providing many of the illustrations and voices, as well as the film’s soundtrack.
Although Truth’s work is separated from the present by nearly 150 years, Spangler said Truth’s message is still relevant. “Women’s rights, civil rights—we still have issues about equality for women and equality for African-Americans in the 21st century,” she said. But Spangler added that her film shows how Truth transcends even her influence as an activist. “She was a symbol, something beyond herself,” said Spangler. “She was willing to forgive and work with people to achieve her goals.”
The one-hour documentary, which was partially funded by SUNY New Paltz, is Spangler’s first national project. Her other projects include a video profile of inmates of a local prison and a documentary on the life of a local Vietnam veteran.