Hundreds of people — mostly women, a majority of them African American — packed the Capitol Visitors Center’s Emancipation Hall today to witness the unveiling of a bronze bust of Sojourner Truth, former slave, abolitionist and suffragette.
Participating in the celebration were three of the nation’s most powerful women: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, each of whom attributed much of their success to Truth’s courage and determination. Actress Cicely Tyson did a rendition of the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech that Truth gave at a women’s rights convention in Ohio in 1851.
Truth, nee Isabella Baumfree, is the first black woman to be honored with a statue, but won’t be the last. Pelosi announced at the event that a statue of Rosa Parks will soon follow.
“Forever more, in the halls of one of our country’s greatest monuments of liberty and equality, justice and freedom, [Truth’s] story will be told again and again and again,” Obama told the audience, which included some of Truth’s direct descendents. She also said that children such as her own will now be able to see the face of a woman who looks like them and that she hopes Truth would be proud to see she, a descendent of slaves, is the nation’s first lady.
“What a wonderful day, when Sojourner Truth takes her rightful place alongside the heroes who have helped shape America,” said Clinton. As a senator, she co-authored with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the legislation to create the monument.
President George W. Bush signed the legislation in 2006, after a 10-year, hard-fought effort by the National Conference of Black Women, led by its late president C. Delores Tucker, to include a statue of Truth in the Capitol rotunda with white suffragettes Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott.
The bust will not, however, be placed with her fellow suffragettes, to the great chagrin of many. Instead it will remain on permanent display in Emancipation Hall, which got its name in part because slaves helped build the Capitol.