The Harsh Truth

Sojourner Truth added to women's suffrage statue in Central Park, academics criticize decision

The Monumental Women Statue Fund announced that it will add Sojourner Truth to the suffragette statue coming to Central Park next summer, but even this decision has sparked criticism. (Via Library of Congress)

The nonprofit behind building Central Park’s first-ever monument dedicated to women’s suffrage announced last week that it’s including abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth alongside suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the bronze cast slated for Literary Walk. Critics who previously said the Monumental Women’s Statue Fund was whitewashing women’s suffrage are already saying it’s has made another major mistake by grouping the three historic females together and is calling for a redesign. 

“If Sojourner Truth is added in a manner that simply shows her working together with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Stanton’s home, it could obscure the substantial differences between white and black suffrage activists, and would be misleading.” 

That’s an excerpt from a letter sent to the Fund that was signed by 20 leading academics on African American history and black culture, including professors from Barnard College, NYU, Brown, and Yale, among others. Leslie Podell, creator of “The Sojourner Truth Project” signed as well. They noted that while Truth did have a relationship with Stanton and Anthony and that they did all attend the May 1867 meeting of the Equal Rights Association, it’s not actually known whether or not they all were at Stanton’s house at the same time. 

It was previously announced that the design of sculptor Meredith Bergmann, which featured just Stanton and Anthony, was approved as the official suffragette statue by the Public Design Commission (PDC) if the Fund made an effort to acknowledge women of color and their role in the movement in a future project. A model of the statue is now on view at the New York Historical Society through August 26. Though the addition of Truth to the piece shows that leadership behind the project is listening, their move feels less than transparent to some. 

Statue mock up of two women talking with long scroll

Bergmann’s statue before the addition of Sojourner Truth (Glenn Castellano/New-York Historical Society)

Hyperallergic spoke with Todd Fine, president of the Washington Street Advocacy Group and co-organizer of the letter with Jacob Morris of the Harlem Historical Society. He said he’s confused as to why the nonprofit didn’t include an image of the new proposal with the public statement. That would have given people the opportunity to weigh in on the final product before it was presented to the PDC. According to the article, the Fund has already submitted the new idea. 

Those in opposition don’t want the process to be rushed, or that a new design be chosen in haste. Either way, the piece is expected to be placed in Central Park one year from next Monday, so a dialogue to redesign it must begin now. And the signees want to talk. 

“We believe that there may be elegant ways to memorialize the full scope of the suffrage movement to incorporate these challenging differences,” the letter reads, “but they will require careful consideration, explicitly including black community voices and scholars of this history.”

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