by Emily Canning-Dean
Abolitionist Sojourner Truth made history back in 1851 when she delivered her famous speech – commonly referred to as “Ain’t I a Woman?” during the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. This spring, a memorial plaza paying tribute to her legacy will open on High Street in downtown Akron.
The plaza is designed by Dion Harris, a landscape architect for Summit Metro Parks. Harris has worked with artists, architects, historic preservationists and other leaders to find the best way to represent Truth in this space.
“Everything in the design has a meaning,” Harris said. “Regional meaning. Akron meaning. I want people to see every little thing and figure out the interpretation.”
The design includes four stone pillars, which represent not only the four pillars of life but also the four pillars in front of the former Universalist Old Stone Church where Truth delivered the speech.
In the center of the plaza is an impala lily which is the national flower of Ghana, Truth’s ancestral home. At the center of the lily, there will be a sculpture of Truth which is being designed by Woodrow Nash, a Black native of Akron who is known internationally for his work.
Harris said that during the design process, he kept accessibility in mind. He said he wanted the design to be fun for kids, incorporating different dynamics with levels and steps.
“Woodrow Nash is doing the most awesome sculpture of Sojourner Truth that’s going to be right in the center,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be encased like a museum. I want people to walk around it and be able to sit and do selfies with it. All that kind of stuff. You would be the focus with her on the flower because I think that’s what it’s about. There is no feeling about her that is selfish. I think everybody is somebody in this park.”
Summit Metro Parks Executive Director Lisa King, who volunteers with the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee, introduced Harris to the project. The committee had rekindled efforts to recognize Truth and her impact. Plans were first in the works in the late 1990s when community activist Faye Dambrot came up with the idea. Dambrot passed away before her vision could be recognized, but members of the committee wanted to pick up where she left off.
The plaza will be located next to the Sojourner Truth Building in downtown Akron, which houses the United Way of Summit and Medina. The space was formerly a small parking lot for the building. Original plans included a simple statue of Truth, but the committee decided placing the statue next to parking spaces didn’t seem very fitting. So, the committee worked with Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit County and these discussions led to a larger plan that encompassed the entire footprint of the parking lot.
The Akron Community Foundation is the fiscal sponsor of the project, but through the Knight Foundation, the committee was connected to the National Trust for Historic Preservation which offered to take the project to the next level.
To learn more about Truth’s legacy, visit summitsuffragecentennial.com. ∞
Photo: This overhead rendering shows the layout of Sojourner Truth Memorial Plaza, currently under construction in downtown Akron. Photo submitted.