Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last November that, as part of an effort to erect more statues of women throughout the state, one of Sojourner Truth will be sited along the Empire State Trail. Town leaders in New Paltz think that it should be here, as New Paltz is the place she called home for 18 years, and they’ve both passed a resolution and launched an online petition to bring Truth home.
Sojourner Truth was a slave from her birth in 1797 until she escaped in 1826, and brought literal significance to the phrase, “speaking truth to power.” Her son was illegally sold into slavery in 1828 and, represented by Abraham Hasbrouck in the county court in Kingston, she sued for his freedom and was the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.
Truth spent much of the rest of her life speaking out for women’s rights, including the one to vote, as well as for prison reform and against capital punishment. Her most famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?,” was delivered at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851.
While Truth wrote about living in New Paltz in her autobiography, where she resided at the time is now in the Town of Esopus, which both has a statue commemorating her and is not part of the planned Empire State Trail route. Town borders have changed considerably since that time, according to New Paltz Deputy Supervisor Dan Torres — initiator of the petition drive — and it’s not clear to him if the New Paltz town line encompassed her home or not. Nevertheless, the area was known as “New Paltz” clearly enough that Truth unambiguously stated that this was her home.
No other community along the trail’s route has a stronger claim on Truth’s legacy, and as supervisor Neil Bettez pointed out, that’s evident throughout the community. “We already have a park and a library,” he said, and there’s a conference in the works at the college which will carry her name.
The resolution in support of siting the statue in New Paltz, passed February 1, justifies the action thus: “Truth’s lifelong commitment to social justice, empowering underrepresented groups and willingness to speak truth to power fits in with the long-held ideals of the New Paltz community.” The online petition, which had 524 signatures as of Saturday, can be found at https://www.change.org/p/governor-andrew-cuomo-place-the-statue-of-sojourner-truth-in-new-paltz, or simply by entering “Sojourner Truth” in the site’s search bar.