Sojourner Truth statue to be erected in Central Park

Carte de visite image of Sojourner Truth, circa 1866 (Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture)

The Hudson Valley’s most renowned native daughter, Sojourner Truth, whose seven-foot bronze statue is slated to be erected on the Highland side of the Walkway over the Hudson next spring, will soon have her likeness enshrined in New York City’s Central Park as well. The figure of Truth will be added to a previously planned sculpture of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to be installed alongside the park’s Literary Walk, in response to criticism that the original version of the statue failed to represent the contributions of women of color to the women’s suffrage movement.

The Monumental Women’s Statue Fund, a group of activists who include a great-great-granddaughter of Stanton, raised funding to put up the statue in part to rectify the disproportionately tiny number of public monuments to historical women in New York City – only five statues of 150 total: Joan of Arc and Eleanor Roosevelt in Riverside Park, Harriet Tubman in Harlem, Gertrude Stein in Bryant Park and Golda Meir two blocks away. Of the many statues in Central Park, the only three that currently depict female figures are all fictional: Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare’s Juliet and the allegorical Angel of the Waters.

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Artist Meredith Bergmann’s initial design for the statue appeared to be inspired by a famous photograph of the two suffragists, with a standing Anthony showing a document to Stanton, seated at a writing-desk. Names of 22 other women’s suffrage pioneers, seven of them black, were to be inscribed on a scroll unfurling from the desk toward a ballot box. During the Public Design Commission’s review of the proposal, some activists criticized the design, including Gloria Steinem, who called the representation of black suffrage leaders “not enough” and said that Anthony and Stanton appeared to be “standing on the names of these other women.”

The scroll was eliminated in a revised design approved in March, and several commissioners urged the Fund to diversify its membership. This month, Fund president Pam Elam announced the inclusion of Truth in the final design of the sculpture, which has not yet been released. Bergman told the commissioners that Truth, a noted orator, would be shown giving a speech.

Unveiling of the monument to women’s suffrage is planned to occur in 2020 to mark the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The 15-foot-tall bronze statue will be positioned on the Mall across from that of the 19th-century American poet Fitz-Greene Halleck, between 67th and 68th Street.

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