Democratic and Republican leaders gathered at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday to unveil a sculpture of the famous nineteenth century abolitionist and former slave Sojourner Truth. Truth, considered a crusader for women's rights as well, is the first black woman to be honored with a bust at the U.S. Capitol.
Performing artists and politicians paid a rousing tribute to abolitionist Sojourner Truth, whose bust was unveiled Tuesday.
Several female personalities attended the ceremony, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a co-sponsor of the measure to put Truth's likeness on permanent display. "She preached against capital punishment, advocated for prison reform, she recruited African American troops for the Union army (during the Civil War), she helped to desegregate the streetcars that ran through Washington, and worked diligently to improve living conditions for freed men and women," Mrs. Clinton said.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in 1797. She escaped in the early 19th century. And although she was unable to read or write, she delivered stirring speeches promoting the abolition of slavery and women's voting rights.
First Lady Michelle Obama said she thinks Sojourner Truth would be proud of the strides black and white women have made. "I hope that Sojourner Truth would be proud to see me, a descendent of slaves, serving as the first lady of the United States of America," she stated.
U.S. actress Cicely Tyson re-enacted Truth's most famous speech, delivered to a women's convention in 1851. In it, Truth challenged the notion that men are superior to women. "Look at me! Look at my arms! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns," Tyson said. "And no man could head me! And ain't I a woman?"
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Truth will now take her rightful place alongside other leaders of the women's suffrage (voting rights) movement.
"[E]very person who visits the Capitol of the United States will know her important role in America's history," she said. "And will see her as an inspiration for the work left undone to fight injustice, hatred and cruelty in our society."
Truth's bust will not stand alone. She will eventually be joined by a statue of Rosa Parks, a civil rights icon who refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus when, during segregation, blacks had to sit at the back.