Unveiling of Sojourner Truth sculpture planned for SUNY New Paltz

SUNY New Paltz will install a new campus sculpture of Sojourner Truth, the civil rights and women’s rights leader who was born into slavery in Ulster County and overcame her life in bondage to become an evangelist, activist, abolitionist and advocate for justice.

This sculpture, titled Sojourner Truth: First Step to Freedom, will become a recognizable anchor for our campus and a highlight for the region. The formal unveiling of this extraordinary work will also feature a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the then-new campus library in honor of Sojourner Truth. In 1971 our library was one of the few buildings in the United States named in honor of a formerly enslaved person, and regrettably, that remains the case 50 years later.

A little history: About three years ago, the sculptor Trina Greene approached the College with the offer that if we would cover the cost of the fabrication and installation of this work (This is being done through donations, not campus funds), she would donate her time and talent to make the piece. Trina’s work is well-known in the county. Her local permanent sculptures include the 11-year-old enslaved Isabella/Sojourner Truth in Port Ewen, and the recently-installed The Poorhouse Monument: Aging Woman. These pieces are powerful social justice statements, as we know Sojourner Truth: First Step to Freedom will be also.

The campus Art & Aesthetics Committee was engaged and approved the work and its location; the SUNY New Paltz Foundation agreed to take on securing the needed funding. The Foundation also recommended that, despite Trina’s generous offer to work for free, we attempt also to provide some remuneration for her two years of work.

We are grateful to the many donors who have stepped forward thus far, especially Mary Ottaway ’70g (Elementary Education), and Ted Snowdon and Duffy Violante, who provided leadership gifts to ensure our ability to fabricate this piece. Stay tuned for a fundraising email as we seek the final dollars needed to complete the project!

The sculpture has been completed, molds made, and the wax cast is now at the foundry in anticipation of the bronzing process. You may track the process here.

Sojourner Truth, born into slavery in 1797, emancipated herself in 1827, here in Ulster County. She went on to become a powerful agent and symbol for suffrage and for Black and women’s rights, indeed for all human rights. The prospect of being able to further recognize and honor her as an enduring example for our students, campus community and region, is humbling and meaningful.