Bringing a legacy to life: Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

Summit Metro Parks
4 min readDec 18, 2023

Katelyn Freil, Marketing Specialist

The Sojourner Truth Memorial Plaza under construction, fall 2023

In 1851, abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth delivered her most-recognized speech during the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Commonly referred to as “Ain’t I a Woman?,” the speech addressed the exclusion of women of color from the women’s rights movement. Now, more than 150 years since this iconic message was shared, local and national organizations have partnered to preserve Truth’s legacy through the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza in downtown Akron.

The plaza, a grand opening for which is scheduled for this spring, was designed by Summit Metro Parks Landscape Architect Dion Harris. He was introduced to the project by Summit Metro Parks Executive Director Lisa King, who has volunteered since 2019 on the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee, which rekindled efforts to recognize the impact of Truth’s efforts.

Summit Metro Parks Executive Director Lisa King (left) and Landscape Architect Dion Harris (right)

Partnerships in action

Plans to recognize Sojourner Truth have been in the works since the late 1990s, when community activist Faye Dambrot first conjured the idea. Though Faye passed before her vision was recognized, the Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee, which is comprised of women leaders from across the greater Akron area, was able to pick up where she left off. According to Lisa, the effort to bring to plaza to life has been “a community effort through and through.”

Located next to The Sojourner Truth Building in downtown Akron, the plaza was formerly a small parking area and loading dock for the building, which houses United Way of Summit and Medina. Original plans included a simple statue, ideally in this location due to its significance in Truth’s life. However, placing the statue next to parking spaces didn’t seem very fitting to Lisa and other committee members. Further discussions between the project committee and Jim Mullen, president and CEO of United Way of Summit County, led to a larger plan that encompassed the entire footprint of the parking lot.

With the physical scope of the project set and Akron Community Foundation as the fiscal sponsor, a new opportunity offered the chance to take this memorial to the next level. Through the Knight Foundation, the committee was connected to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, whose African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund seeks to preserve sites of African American activism, achievement and resilience.

Through this partnership, Dion worked with artists, architects, historic preservationists and other leaders across the country to identify elements of Truth’s life to be represented in the space.

An initial sketch of the plaza’s design (top) and an updated version (bottom), which includes interpretive elements including the impala lily and four stone pillars at the center of the plaza. Listen below to Dion’s thought process behind the inclusion of the impala lily in the design.

Creating a meaningful design

Dion’s background as a Black landscape architect, together with the committee’s input, brought authenticity to the project design. The design honors not just the life of Sojourner Truth, but also Black history and the intersectionality of the civil rights and women’s rights movements.

Four stone pillars on the plaza represent the four pillars of life, as well as the four pillars in front of the Universalist Old Stone Church where Truth gave her speech. The impala lily at the center of the plaza is the national flower of Ghana, Truth’s ancestral home. And at the center of the lily will stand a sculpture of Truth designed by Woodrow Nash, a Black Akron-native artist internationally known for his sculpture work. Truth’s speech, as written by Marius Robinson for the Anti-Slavery Bugle soon after it was delivered, will be displayed on site.

In addition to supporting Dion’s design of the space, the Action Fund, with support from the Knight Foundation, is creating a toolkit that will support other communities in replicating similar projects that highlight Black history.

Discover more

Visitors are welcome at the plaza, located outside of United Way of Summit & Medina in Akron, and should stay tuned for an official opening in 2024, when the sculpture will be installed.

Those seeking to learn about Truth’s legacy and ongoing efforts to preserve her history can watch the documentary “Sojourner Truth: Our History” and review a list of resources from the Sojourner Truth Statue Fund.

For more stories like this, check out Green Islands magazine, a bi-monthly publication from Summit Metro Parks. Summit County residents can sign up to receive the publication at home free of charge.

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Summit Metro Parks

Summit Metro Parks manages 15,000 acres, 16 parks, three nature centers and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at www.summitmetroparks.org.