For nearly a decade, the National Congress of Black Women has fought to include a memorial to suffrage leader Sojourner Truth in the Capitol’s “Portrait Monument,” which commemorates the women’s movement with depictions of three white suffragists. The effort finally became successful last year, and Truth will make her way to the Capitol in October 2008. She will be the first black woman to be honored with a bust in the Capitol.
To celebrate, the NCBW will host its 23rd annual Awards Brunch on Sunday in recognition of the Sojourner Truth Bill, H.R. 4510, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) in the previous Congress to place a bust depicting Truth in the Capitol. Guest speaker Michelle Obama, wife of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), will deliver a “State of the Black Woman” address.
Faye Williams, national chairwoman of the NCBW, said, “I am truly excited about the prospect of having the bust of the first black woman permanently displayed in the Halls of Congress. In perpetuity, people will come to the Capitol and become aware of the fact that black women have always been great — even through some of our most difficult times in history.”
The late C. DeLores Tucker, NCBW national chair from 1994 to 2005, initiated the Sojourner Truth Crusade in 1997, when the Portrait Monument commemorating American suffragists Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton was to be moved into the Capitol’s Rotunda (the monument was originally presented to the Capitol by the National Woman’s Party in 1921). Tucker protested and let it be known that she “wanted an image of Truth chiseled into the statue to correct history.”
Originally, supporters wanted the Portrait Monument modified to include Truth. Instead, a separate bust of Truth is being sculpted for inclusion in the Capitol. The NCBW, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the educational, political, economic and cultural development of black women and their families, is currently in the process of raising funds to have Truth’s bust sculpted.
Jackson Lee said in a statement, “The recognition by the Congress that Sojourner Truth, one of the nation’s greatest women’s rights leaders, should be honored in the Capitol is both well deserved and long overdue. Her great advocacy on behalf of women, despite all the hardships she faced, makes Sojourner Truth truly deserving of representation.”
The Sojourner Truth Project, initiated by Tucker, aimed to educate those who were unaware of Truth’s contributions. Born to slave parents in 1797, Isabella Baumfree, who changed her named to Sojourner Truth once she gained her freedom, passionately understood the hardships of minorities in the United States. Throughout her life she worked as a women’s rights activist, speaking throughout the nation for equality as well as abolition of slavery. She also fought for the desegregation of public transportation in Washington, D.C., during the Civil War.
Truth’s infamous speech “Ain’t I a Woman?” that was delivered in 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio, includes, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they [are] asking to do it, the men better let them.”
Those interested in attending the awards brunch Sunday at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C., can visit nationalcongressbw.org or call 202-678-6788. General tickets are $75 and preferred seating tickets are $150.