Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza and Statue opens to public

May 30, 2024

Dignitaries and the public gathered to celebrate Akron’s newest landmark.

Yesterday evening, a crowd gathered on Downtown Akron’s North High Street to witness the opening and dedication of the newly completed Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza, followed by the public unveiling of a statue of Sojourner Truth sculpted by Akron-based artist Woodrow Nash.

Truth, a staunch advocate for abolition, civil rights and women’s suffrage, gave her most famous speech in Akron. Known as “Ain’t I a Woman?” – though she almost certainly never spoke those words – it is among the most iconic in American history. Yesterday’s event took place on the 173rd anniversary of Truth’s speech, and the new landmark is located near the very spot where she spoke before the Ohio Women’s Convention in the Old Stone Church.

Speakers at the event included Towanda Mullins, chair of the Sojourner Truth Project Committee; Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit & Medina; Congresswoman Emilia Sykes; Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro; Akron Mayor Shammas Malik; Ohio State Representative Veronica Sims; Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund; artist Woodrow Nash; Cory McLiechey, a descendant of Sojourner Truth; Keith Dambrot, son of Faye Hersh Dambrot who first conceived the idea of funding a statue in honor of Sojourner Truth; and a visitor from Ghana, ancestral homeland of Truth’s father.

The dedication and unveiling were followed by a community celebration on North High Street, which was closed for the event. Attendees enjoyed live music, a reenactment of Truth’s speech by Hazel Malone, free screenings at The Nightlight Cinema and more.

Open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk, the Plaza was designed by landscape architect Dion Harris of Summit Metro Parks, with construction management done by The Ruhlin Company. At its center, the Plaza features a design inspired by an impala lily, the national flower of Ghana, Truth’s ancestral homeland. There, on a plinth of black granite, stands Nash’s life-sized bronze sculpture of Truth, surrounded by pillars representing the long-demolished Old Stone Church. A path winding through the Plaza displays important dates in Truth’s life, beginning with her birth as Isabella Baumfree in 1797, continuing through the day she left slavery in 1826 and her years as an activist and orator, before ending in 1883, when she passed away at age 86 in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The Plaza also features a mural by local artist Derin Fletcher, inspired by a famous 1864 photograph of Truth. Fletcher’s mural occupies the southeast wall of the Plaza, alongside a metal sculpture of an impala lily designed by another local artist, Alexandria Couch.

“The finalization of the Sojourner Truth Project is long overdue for our community,” said Woodrow Nash. “I am honored that the past and current Truth committees selected me as the sculptor to create the Sojourner Truth statue, after decades of efforts to bring this to fruition. Installations like the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza and John Brown monuments not only honor significant historical figures who led change to better our world but also serve as educational tools that inspire reflection and learning among community members and future tourists alike. I would love to see the John Brown memorial be public facing like the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza.”

The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza was conceived by the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee. The committee was convened by Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro in 2018 with the goal of identifying a single project to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.  Following that direction, the group turned its attention to honoring the legacy of abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

“The Sojourner Truth Committee’s dedication over the last five years to community awareness, education, and collaboration with United Way Summit & Medina and a multitude of contributors across communities is commendable,” said Towanda Mullins, chair of the Sojourner Truth Project Committee. “The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza will serve as a transformative space, fostering a deeper understanding of Truth’s lifework and empowering future generations towards a more equitable society. “

United Way of Summit & Medina contributed a portion of its property for the Plaza and became the project’s largest funder, providing more than $1 million toward its completion. Going forward, United Way will be responsible for the Plaza’s continuing maintenance and upkeep. To support these efforts, visit here.

Additional support for the Plaza project came through the efforts of the Sojourner Truth Statue Fund, United Way of Summit & Medina, and from hundreds of individuals and dozens of local and national organizations. A full list of sponsors is available here.

“Throughout her life, Sojourner Truth fought for the disempowered and the disenfranchised, and she used her voice to spread a powerful message of hope and justice,” said Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit & Medina. “Today, her legacy lives on, inspiring new generations to continue her work and to advance the cause of equality and justice within our community and across our nation.”

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