The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

May 17, 2024

The team at United Way of Summit & Medina looks forward to the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, which will take place on Wednesday, May 29th, 2024 at 5:30 pm. It is fitting that we celebrate this community project on May 29th, as it is the same date that Sojourner Truth gave her famous 1851 speech in Akron, Ohio. Join us as we look back at Sojourner Truth’s history in Akron, the community impact made by the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza, and celebrate the people who helped this project come to life.

The History Behind the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

Did you know that Akron, OH was home to a historic moment in the Abolitionist and Women’s Rights Movements? It all started with Sojourner Truth, a woman who was enslaved until she found freedom and became a vocal advocate for women, specifically Black women, during the 1800s. While at a conference in Akron, she gave what is now referred to as her “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech – also known as one of the greatest speeches in American history. To commemorate this rich history, United Way of Summit & Medina worked with the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee and many other community partners and stakeholders to bring the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza to life.

Who was Sojourner Truth?

Sojourner Truth, originally named Isabella Baumfree, was born in 1797 to enslaved parents. After being sold at an auction when she was 9 years old, Truth was sold repeatedly before seeking freedom with her infant daughter in 1826. She found a home with the Van Wagenens in New York – a family that had a profound impact on her faith. With a newfound spiritual fervor, Isabella Baumfree changed her name to Sojourner Truth and began boldly speaking out against slavery and oppression. The rest of her life was dedicated to equal rights activism as she spoke on behalf of those whose voices were ignored or silenced.

Sojourner Truth’s Speech in Akron

On May 29, 1851, Sojourner Truth spoke with power and authority at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. She specifically vocalized the hardships of Black women – women who were not afforded the same rights as their white counterparts. Over the years this speech has been referred to as “Ain’t I A Woman?” – but historians no longer believe she spoke those exact words. Nevertheless, historians agree that this speech captured the attention of her mostly white audience and marked her as one of the leading voices in Women’s Rights Activism.

The Community Impact

It has been a true privilege for United Way of Summit & Medina to work on the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza, a project that seeks to honor the memory of Sojourner Truth and the history she created in Akron. We hope this project will shine a light on the Black woman’s experience – both historically and in the present day – as well as serve as a meaningful community gathering spot for years to come.

Honoring The Black Experience

The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza will be the first historic site in Akron that directly reflects and honors the Black woman’s experience. This park shines a light on the activism of a Black woman who was bold enough to advocate for equal rights before the Emancipation Proclamation. Sojourner Truth spoke up for the voices of Black women who were ignored and overlooked, an experience that many still face today. This plaza serves as a reminder that the voices of Black women matter and their experiences are not forgotten.

Creating A Meaningful Gathering Spot

The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza is built on the land where Old Stone Church once stood, the church where Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech. This project has been an act of community preservation so that Truth’s legacy is never forgotten. The plaza will feature a floral motif inspired by Truth’s family roots in Ghana and a life-sized statue of Sojourner Truth at the center. We look forward to the Akron community using this meaningful park as a gathering spot for years to come!

The People Who Made It Possible

This community project was made possible through the dedication and talent of many people. United Way Summit & Medina worked with the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee, numerous sponsors, and a team of experts to complete the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza. It is through the combined efforts of the following dedicated individuals that our community can enjoy this park in downtown Akron!

Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee

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.

Talented Artists and Designers

Many talented professionals were involved in the planning and execution of the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza project. The plaza was designed by Dion Harris, landscape designer for Summit Metro Parks. The GPD Group completed architectural work and construction was done by the Ruhlin Company. Finally, renowned Akron artist Woodrow Nash was commissioned to create a Sojourner Truth statue to sit at the center of the plaza.

Our Generous Sponsors

Finally, thank you to the many people who financially supported this project. We witnessed amazing generosity from local foundations and community members who understood the importance of this project. Please take a moment to read through all of the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza sponsors and be encouraged by the support of this community!

Support the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

Ready to celebrate the completion of this meaningful project? Attend the ribbon cutting on Wednesday, May 29, 2024 from 5:30–7:30 pm or donate to United Way today. Your donations can help support the maintenance of the plaza, as well as services for your valued community members. Through our direct service programs, we are creating positive changes in the lives of real people. Help us make a difference in our community, with our community, and for our community.

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