Akron Celebrates Sojourner Truth Legacy with New Plaza and Statue


On a momentous Wednesday in Akron, Ohio, hundreds of individuals clung to the history hanging in the air. Gathered in the exact location where the legendary Sojourner Truth once delivered a landmark speech — her iconic 1851 address famously named “Ain’t I a Woman?” — the city celebrated the opening of a new plaza and statue dedicated to the revered abolitionist’s memory.

Truth, an African American woman who had once been held captive in the chains of slavery, gave her impassioned speech at the Universalist Old Stone Church during the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. Her words resonated with the crowd as she candidly spoke of the trials she had faced during slavery, challenging her listeners to equate the humanity of enslaved African Americans with that of their white counterparts.

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Long ago, the stones of the old church have been laid to rest, replaced by the footprint of the United Way of Summit and Medina Counties. This location now hosts the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza, paying enduring respect to the past while ushering in the future.

The Sojourner Truth Project-Akron’s chairperson, Towanda Mullins, wholeheartedly believes that the plaza will serve as a constant reminder, encouraging everyone to raise their voice for justice. “It’s going to remind others to be the first one to speak up, not only for a select few, but for all,” she emphasized.

Originally named Isabella Bomfree, Truth was born into the harsh reality of slavery in the Hudson Valley around 1797. After her owner failed to keep his promise of emancipation, she left with her infant daughter in 1826, finding employment with the Van Wagenen family, whose surname she adopted. Truth made history as the first black woman known to have succeeded in a lawsuit against white men to free her son from slavery.

The newly unveiled statue, a masterpiece by Akron, Ohio native Woodrow Nash, showcases Truth standing in a proud pose with a book in hand. The tribute blooms from an impala lily, the national flower of Ghana, as a nod to the homeland of Truth’s father.

This esteemed monument offers a brilliant homage to the uncelebrated contributions of black female civic leaders who echoed Truth’s steps, explained Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and senior vice president at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The plaza landscape is punctuated by towering stone pillars, topped by engraved words embodying Truth’s strong character: “faith” and “activism.” They serve as the protective guardians of her famous quotes, including the inspiring, “I will not allow my life’s light to be determined by the darkness around me.”

Designer Dion Harris conceived of the plaza with a mission to incorporate local materials reminiscent of the old church, such as sandstone and stone. Harris hoped to reflect not only Akron’s industrial strength but also the quintessential spirit of Truth and her incredible era.

However, Akron’s tribute is not the sole memorial to Truth. A bronze statue dedicated to her and fellow women’s rights leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was unveiled in New York’s Central Park in 2020 – marking the park’s first monument to historical heroines. Angola, Indiana, revealed another statue in Truth’s honor in 2021.

With the grand opening of the plaza, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund expressed its gratitude to all sponsors including the Knight Foundation, United Way of Summit and Medina, the Sojourner Truth Project-Akron, and the Akron Community Foundation.

Echoing this sentiment, Mullins stated, “This is not an African American story. This is an American story. History at its best for all people.” Indeed, this deeply rooted site in Truth’s journey will forever remind humanity of her extraordinary life and the indomitable spirit of oppressed groups in their continuous quest for equality and justice.