Monday, August 17, 2015

Akron History: Sojourner Truth in Akron

The following essay first appeared in the July/issue #11 of The Devil Strip--our new, twice monthly, arts & culture newspaper in Akron. Issue #11 is now available--go out and pick up a copy or eventually read it on-line.  As many of you know, I love researching and writing about Akron history. I'm writing a regular column about Akron history for The Devil Strip.  If you have any suggestions or requests for particular topics, let me know.

Sojourner Truth in Akron: A Brief but Powerful Historic Moment
by Joanna Wilson

Akronites have always been supportive of the underdog. This is true whether the underdog is one of our own or even someone passing through. Evidence of this truth lies in the long-standing pride we have that social and political thinker/lecturer Sojourner Truth once spoke here. 

Truth was an outstanding nineteenth-century women’s rights advocate and abolitionist.  Born into slavery, she renamed herself Sojourner Truth to embody “a traveler preaching truth to all she met.” Already a noted lecturer, Truth came to Akron to attend a women’s suffrage convention on May 28-29, 1851 at the Universalist Stone Church in downtown.  According to reports, a group of local ministers occupied much of the gathering with criticisms about women wasting their time worrying about their right to vote. Hearing enough of this malarkey, Truth stood up and extemporaneously but eloquently pleaded for human freedom. In what has since been titled the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, Truth demanded to be considered the equal of anyone, despite gender or race.

Sojourner Truth Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-119343

Her ideas and words were well received amongst the progressive-thinking crowd in Akron that day. Those unmoved by her words included a local newspaper writer for The Summit Beacon, who dismissively reported that Truth “also spoke.” However, the convention participants were inspired by Truth’s fiery passion and eventually the speech was written down and published. Although women’s suffrage would continue the struggle nearly forty years after Truth’s death in 1883, the “Ain’t I a Woman” speech grew in popularity through the following decade--the Civil War years--calling for racial equality.

An Ohio Historical Marker identifies the spot where Sojourner Truth delivered her famous speech in Akron. Anyone can easily visit the location where the Universalist Stone Church once stood. The marker is on the wall of what is now named the Sojourner Truth Building, of The Summit County Department of Job and Family Services, on N. High Street between Perkins and E. Market Street.

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