Why Erect a Statue
In 1993 a group of Northampton citizens called a meeting following the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles to talk about how this community could further ideas of racial equality and justice for all citizens. They decided on two goals: to create a symbol of the community’s desire to help eliminate racism and challenge oppression in our society, and to honor Sojourner Truth as that symbol because she lived in Florence, MA in the 19th century and her life work was to end racism and promote equality in our country. This group became the Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee. From 1993-2002, the committee successfully campaigned and raised money for the installation of a Sojourner Truth statue in Florence to honor her legacy. They then selected the site, raised funds, commissioned a sculptor, and selected a contractor to construct the memorial site.
The idea for a memorial statue that would honor Sojourner Truth was the first project of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee.
The site for the Sojourner Truth memorial statue was a former small city park at the corner of Pine and Park Streets in Florence. The city donated the site for the statue in November, 2001.
Denig Design Associates of Northampton designed the memorial site. The statue stands on a granite pedestal, set in a central terrace framed by granite seatwalls, which are surrounded by a lush garden. Three informational plaques about Sojourner Truth and the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, of which she was a part in Northampton, are placed throughout the site.
Landscaping was completed in the summer of 2003 by volunteers, including students from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, with plants that were donated by local stores and nurseries.
The project received a major boost in 1997 when the Massachusetts Legislature awarded it a $100,000 matching grant under the Massachusetts Monument Grants program. Other major gifts were received from Florence Savings Bank, Smith College, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, and an anonymous donor. A penny collection, begun by the Unitarian Society of Northampton & Florence in the fall of 1998, grew by spring 2000 to include more than 50 collection sites in western Massachusetts and eight other states. As a result of the community’s generosity, more than $7,000 was raised by this grassroots campaign.
On April 1, 2001, Thomas Jay Warren was selected to create the statue of Sojourner Truth. Warren was born in Mississippi in 1958, and studied sculpture as a Presidential scholar at Mississippi College, graduating with special distinction in 1979. He has received many commissions and awards.
More than 600 people attended the unveiling of the Sojourner Truth statue in an afternoon dedication ceremony on Sunday, October 6, 2002. The memorial honors both Sojourner Truth and the vision that inspired her. The goal of the memorial site is to help keep this piece of Northampton’s history alive both for the residents of western Massachusetts and visitors to this area.
Honoring Truth: The Sojourner Statue Story, edited by Peter Ives, tells the story of the 10-year community effort to erect the statue. The book is available for purchase from Collective Copies; all proceeds will support the committee’s continuing efforts to honor Truth’s legacy.