Honoring Truth: From Vision to Reality at Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza – Knight Foundation
Stylized image of Sojourner Truth, featuring her image and various lines of text.
Community and National Initiatives

Honoring Truth: From Vision to Reality at Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

What began as a local community initiative blossomed into a powerful symbol of unity and purpose – a testament to the transformative impact of collective effort that honors the past and offers a shared vision for the future.

Sojourner Truth in a photograph from 1863. | Photo: Library of Congress

In 2020, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Akron sought to honor its own rich history of impactful and empowered women. Among them was Sojourner Truth, whose iconic speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” reverberated through the Universalist Old Stone Church in Akron on May 29, 1851, igniting the fight for both abolition and women’s rights. While the church no longer stands, the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee formed to plan the anniversary and create a permanent tribute to Truth’s enduring legacy in Akron. Powered by Knight’s investment in revitalizing Akron’s downtown, as well as a national initiative (the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund) the result has far surpassed the committee’s original vision, intertwining Truth’s story into the nation’s narrative and ensuring her pivotal role in U.S. history remains vividly remembered for generations to come.

To foster informed and engaged communities, Knight is dedicated to cultivating a sense of belonging and commitment among diverse residents to the places they call home. Operating across 26 cities nationwide, our mission is to propel existing efforts to rejuvenate downtowns, with a special emphasis on public spaces. In Akron, you can see this work in action.

Woodrow Nash and statue prototype | Photo: Woodrow Nash

On May 29, 2024, Akron will proudly unveil the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza, marking the culmination of years of dedication and hard work by the committee. This plaza transcends a mere statue or park; it stands as a vibrant space for people to gather, reflect, and learn. Anchored by a statue crafted by Akron native Woodrow Nash, the plaza embodies the essence of community engagement at its best.

Throughout the project, a committee of thought leaders, including nationally recognized preservationists, scholars, and designers, has served as advisors, ensuring the memorial’s design and interpretation resonate with the community. This direct engagement process has prioritized soliciting input from local stakeholder organizations, institutions, and individuals who are positioned to become stewards of the site.

The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza stands as a profound testament to the enduring influence of Truth’s legacy, echoing her message of empowerment and equality for generations to come.

Stylized image of Sojourner Truth, featuring her image and various lines of text.

Read more from Kyle Kutuchief, Director/Akron

In the spring of 2021, Brent Leggs, who leads the National Trust for Historic Preservation, addressed the Knight Foundation’s Program team. He spoke passionately about the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a groundbreaking program aimed at preserving sites of African American activism, achievement and resilience. Through this preservation effort—the largest ever undertaken in support of African American historic sites—the 70-year-old National Trust aimed to expand the American story, ensuring (in their words) that “the rich tapestry of African American history is woven into the fabric of our nation’s narrative.”

Immediately, I had an idea. The Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee, a grassroots organization led by a diverse group of women from Akron, was working on an effort to educate the public about the strides made over the past century for expanding voting rights for all women, particularly women of color. The committee was focusing on the legacy of Sojourner Truth, a prominent advocate for abolition and women’s rights. I asked Leggs for a few minutes of his time, and told him about the committee’s efforts.

Construction of The Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza in Akron is seen in aerial imagery. | Source: Google Earth with imagery from Airbus and other sources.

On May 29, 1851, Truth—abolitionist, activist, author—delivered her most recognized speech, commonly known as “Ain’t I a Woman?,” to a crowd gathered at the Universalist Old Stone Church in Akron for the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. In her speech, considered by historians to be one of the most important events related to abolition and women’s rights in U.S. history, Truth recalled the hardships endured in her lifetime, particularly while she was enslaved, emphasizing her humanity and her worth in comparison to both the men and white women in the audience by repeating the powerful question, “ain’t I a woman?”. Today, the church where she made this speech no longer stands, but the committee wanted to establish a fitting permanent tribute space for people to learn about, reflect on and remember Truth’s legacy.

Photo: Dion Harris via African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

Knight Foundation had already provided a small grant to support the work of this motivated, diverse group of women, and I was eager for Leggs to meet them. Once he did, things moved fairly quickly. The National Trust committed resources, technical advice, partnership development and community engagement to support the vision of the Sojourner Truth Project in Akron. Knight made an additional grant (commiting just under $500,000 in total) and a grand vision for the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza––fueled by collaboration and community engagement––was born.