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.