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The Next 400: Women lead effort to preserve Akron legacy of abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” in Akron, OH on May 29, 1851
Updated: May. 30, 2021 at 7:38 PM EDT
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AKRON, Ohio (WOIO) - One hundred and seventy years ago this week, Sojourner Truth gave one of the most powerful, influential and important speeches of the 19th century in Northeast Ohio.

On May 29th, 1851 Truth delivered the “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

Now, a group of women in Akron is raising money to create the Sojourner Truth Plaza to memorialize Truth’s powerful message in the city where she gave it.

“I have borne thirteen chillen, and seen ‘em mos’ all sold off into slavery and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard-and ain’t I a woman?” she reportedly said.

A written record of the speech does not exist and the accuracy of the version of her speech that has come down to us has been debated over the years, but her message is clear.

“Sojourner Truth being an abolitionist, suffragist, preacher, we all stand on her truths,” said Towanda Mullins, lead committee member, The Sojourner Truth Statue Project-Akron.

A group of women from the non-profit is leading the effort to honor her with a statue right in the area where she gave her speech.

“You know she said, ‘God, guide me,’ and he guided her here to Akron, Ohio,” said Mullins.

They are working with local artist, Woodrow Nash, who is creating the statue.

A group of women is leading the effort to honor abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth,...
A group of women is leading the effort to honor abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth, who delivered her famous speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" in Akron, Ohio on May 29, 2021(WOIO)

“It is imperative that our community realizes the courage, the fortitude, the compassion for all,” Mullins said. “We stand on her shoulders.”

A group of women is leading the effort to honor abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth,...
A group of women is leading the effort to honor abolitionist and suffragist, Sojourner Truth, who delivered her famous speech, "Ain't I A Woman?" in Akron, Ohio on May 29, 2021(WOIO)

Theresa Carter of the Sojourner Truth Project-Akron said the organization has raised $500,000 of the $1.5 to $2 million dollars needed to realize the project, which will include a statue and a plaza that will include seating in the park.

COVID-19 slowed down in-person fundraisers, but they’ve been raising money online with community support.

“She worked very hard for us to do the right thing for us to be where we are today,” said Carter. “Truth was a woman who spoke up for civil rights. She spoke up for women, especially women of color.”

The project has evolved since its inception in 2018. Originally, the project was supposed to just be a statue, but the project has gained momentum. Now the plan is to repurpose a parking lot into a plaza.

“The project has evolved, and we’re proud of that,” said Mullins. “We envision for the plaza to take over the entire area and we’ll have seating. There’s a lot of history right here.”

The Summit County Historical Society is also collaborating on the project.

The group jumped at the idea when it was initially proposed, said historical society president Leianne Neff Heppner. There’s already a historical marker and name on the United Way building in downtown Akron.

“This area, this region really was a hotbed for abolitionism and also for Women’s Rights and temperance and Sojourner Truth represents that in every sense of the word,” said Neff Heppner.

Honoring the past by shaping the future.

The goal is to finish the project by Fall 2022. If you’d like to make a donation, click here.

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