Dr. Nell Irvin Painter was a historian for Princeton University and president of the American Historians’ Organization.
She grew up in California and was a child of The Great Migration – Americans from the South moved to escape Jim Crow laws and take advantage of new opportunities. How the Great Migration affected America has been the subject of her writing several times.
Her studies were completed in anthropology, French medieval history, and African Studies, finally earning her doctorate at Harvard.
As a child, she was curious about Sojourner Truth, and by the mid-90s, she published the seminal Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol.
After completing Creating Black Americans, a history of Africans in America, she published the bestselling History of White People. These two books have defined her career.
Today, when you read about America’s Caste system, why are Italians, Irish, or Hungarians considered White, or when did Africans first arrive in America, you are probably reading work influenced by her. The super-popular White Fragility is a cribbed version of Dr. Nell Irvin Painter’s work.
She retired from Princeton in 2005.
I have enjoyed writing about women and their influence during Black History Month. What is very cool about Dr. Nell Irvin Painter is she is still with us and very active today. After retirement, she returned to her original love, art. Her last book was Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over.