2014-02-05 / Family

Truth be told

Local actress brings historical character to life
By Joan Hughes

Charmaine Crowell-White portrayed Sojourner Truth at the Meadowdale Library in North Chesterfield on Saturday. 
James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer Charmaine Crowell-White portrayed Sojourner Truth at the Meadowdale Library in North Chesterfield on Saturday. James Haskins/Chesterfield Observer While Charmaine Crowell-White has portrayed Sojourner Truth for years, this month is the first time she’s taking her one-woman show to the Chesterfield County Public Library system.

Keeping it fresh isn’t a problem.

Despite portraying Truth many times, Crowell-White is still clearly enthusiastic about bringing her to life.

“I love everything about her,” Crowell-White said. “She had courage. She did remarkable things when you think about the time she lived in.”

Truth was “one of the foremost leaders of the abolition movement and an early advocate of women’s rights,” according to the library program description. It also said that Truth’s “most famous speech was delivered at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, when she noticed that no one was addressing the problems of black women. The former slave’s powerful remarks about human rights and gender equity have come to beknownasthe‘Ain’t I a Woman?’speech.”

Among the other reasons Crowell-White admires Truth: She rescued her son, sold illegally to the South; she circulated petitions to get land in the West for former slaves; she was a songwriter and a poet; she met with Abraham Lincoln; she helped downtrodden women; and she was a nurse at the Freedman’s Village in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War.

“She was just absolutely amazing and always being motivated by what was the truth,” Crowell-White said.

“I’m still as passionate about her life as when I was doing research on her,” the North Chesterfield resident said. “So many of the things she said are still true and relevant. And I think when people are introduced to her, they’re better off for having known her and [portraying her] is a way I can contribute.”

Crowell-White said she is a history buff and enjoys living history and bringing historic characters to life. She said she created the“Ain’tIaWoman”show10,15years ago and has performed it around the country, including in Alaska, and in the Caribbean.

“This may be my 100th performance but I have to treat it as if it’s the first performance because it’s the first time for many of the audience members,” Crowell-White said.

“For the library, I will make a general presentation so it would be suitable for 6 years old through adults,” Crowell-White said, adding that she hopes to “entertain and inform the audiences about this amazing woman.” The free show is about an hour, including a question-and-answer session.

Crowell-White said live theater is “definitely a different type of work but I welcome the challenge.” She said if she gets a standing ovation, “it makes it good, good work” and that she thinks, “Hey, she [Truth] rocked again.” She added, “I’m just the vessel.”

But, of course, she’s much more than that.

Crowell-White is a retired Chesterfield County Public Schools theater instructor who taught at Thomas Dale and Meadowbrook high schools and at Falling Creek and Tomahawk middle schools. She was named Chesterfield’s Middle School Teacher of the Year for the 2010-2011 school year.

Currently, in addition to her portrayal of Truth and other historical characters, Crowell-White works on historical projects that film in Central Virginia.

“Ain’t I a Woman: SojournerTruth,”one of Chesterfield County’s Black History Month commemorations, is scheduled for 7-8 p.m., Feb. 6, Central Library, 9501 Lori Road, Chesterfield, and 7-8 p.m. Feb. 11, Midlothian Library, 521 Coalfield Road, Midlothian. Admission is free. Details: 751-CCPL or

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