SUNY New Paltz students Briana Gary ’23 (Geography) and Anayathsyn Castillo ’24 (Sociology) are part of a small team of Ulster County youth leaders who have been working for more than a year to secure a day of remembrance for abolitionist icon Sojourner Truth, who was born near Kingston, New York.
Now, they get to see the results of their efforts: The City of Kingston Common Council, the Town of Esopus and the Ulster County Legislature have all approved resolutions designating Nov. 26 as Sojourner Truth Day, commemorating her death on that date in 1883.
To achieve this victory, Gary, Castillo and other activists came together via the nonprofit Kingston YMCA Farm Project to help make Sojourner Truth Day a reality.
They began their work last year after reading about Truth in “Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds during a book club they had together.
“It sparked discussion surrounding who she was,” she said. “She has such big local ties, and we wanted to get deeper into that.”
As a Kingston native and Youth Empowerment Coordinator with the Farm Project, Gary worked with Castillo and their peers to organize that interest in Truth’s life into a local movement.
“We had so much support from the community and local officials along with learning so much about Sojourner Truth and her legacy,” Gary said. “It feels kind of surreal. There’s a lot of work that went into it, and it just feels really good to honor her in this way.”
The advocates also worked to share their experience with peers on campus. As students in the History Department’s Community, Memory, and Historical Practice internship seminar this fall, they further explored Truth’s life and work, presenting their findings shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday.
“I found [Truth] so inspirational because of her strength and resilience to continue fighting for herself, her family, and her people during a period where Black women had little to no power,” Castillo said.
“She was so iconic,” Gary added. “She’s a mother, she escaped to freedom with her infant daughter. She freed her son from slavery. She gave incredible speeches.”
While they secured an initial goal with the Sojourner Truth Day proclamations in Ulster County, Gary and Castillo are continuing to draw attention to the human rights activist’s legacy. They hope to expand Sojourner Truth Day as a statewide day of remembrance, and are also collaborating on a project to replace outdated language about Truth on a plaque outside the Ulster County Courthouse, where in 1828 Truth fought for her son to be freed from slavery.
[UPDATE, Dec. 1: New York State Senator Michelle and Assemblymember Kevin Cahill ’77 (Political Science) have announced legislation designating Nov. 26 of each year as Sojourner Truth Day in the State of New York.]
“There’s a lot more work to be done that I plan on being a part of,” said Gary.
More information on Sojourner Truth’s life and work is available through this special collection at the Sojourner Truth Library.
Thinking about other ways you can honor Truth’s legacy? Castillo, Gary and their partners at the Kingston YMCA Farm Project are asking the community to consider some of these actions:
Visit Sojourner Truth statues in Ulster County in Port Ewen, the Town of Esopus or in Highland at the Walkway Over the Hudson;
Take a walk on the Sojourner Truth Trail at Shaupeneak Ridge;
Read books about Sojourner Truth like “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth” and James Ransome’s children’s book “My Name is Truth: The Life of Sojourner Truth;”
Have bookstores and libraries create displays with Sojourner Truth books so people can gain knowledge about her;
Critique the language used when talking or reading about enslaved people;
Share what you have learned with friends and loved ones;
Donate to the Library at the A.J. Williams Myers African Roots Center;
Support Black-owned businesses (an internet search for Black-owned businesses in the Hudson Valley brings up many sources);
Listen to a podcast about Sojourner Truth;
Use the hashtag #SojournerTruthDay to share the ways she has been honored by those participating.