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April 28, 2009

“TRUTH” Comes To Washington, DC!

sojourner-truth-abe-lincoln  Today, First Lady Michelle Obama will help unveil a bronze bust of Sojourner Truth, a former slave and women’s rights activist.  This will be the first sculpture of a black woman in the U.S. Capitol. The ceremony will take place in Emancipation Hall at the newly opened Capitol Visitor Center at 11am EST.

Makayla Gray McLiechey, a 10-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan is a descendant of Sojourner Truth. When interviewed she said, “When anyone comes to me and says, ‘Aren’t you Sojourner Truth’s eighth-generation grandchild?’ That just tickles me,” McLiechey said. “… I feel so happy inside that I am a part of history and the making of Sojourner Truth history.”

McLiechey is one of eight Truth descendants from Battle Creek and Grand Rapids who left for Washington D.C. on Saturday night where they will take part in an unveiling ceremony of a bust of Truth at Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol building today.

“This is something we probably never dreamed would happen. We couldn’t be any prouder,” said Burl McLiechey, a sixth-generation Truth descendant.

The $3.2 million bust will make history as the first memorial bust of a black woman to be placed in the Capitol. The project was spearheaded by the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. and took nearly 10 years to complete.

Dorothy Height helped raise $4,000 to contribute to the bust through the Dollars for Truth Campaign, which began two years ago.

Height also arranged for the local descendants of Truth to attend the ceremony. In a tribute to history, they are bringing a Bible signed by themselves and more than 300 Battle Creek residents to present to President Barack Obama. Thomas McLiechey said the gesture is reminiscent of when Truth presented Abraham Lincoln with a bible during his Presidency.

The campaign to memorialize Truth in the nation’s Capitol began more than a decade ago. A self-educated abolitionist who changed her name from Isabella Baumfree, Truth played a large role in the women’s suffrage movement and in 1851 delivered the famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s rights convention in Ohio.

Truth, who died in 1883, encompassed all aspects of a truly free woman. She personified women’s rights, equal rights, struggling and understanding.

E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the nonprofit National Congress of Black Women, which commissioned the work, said many believed that Truth should stand alongside women’s rights figures Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott in a portrait monument that was placed in the Capitol Rotunda in 1997. 

However Congressional legislation to include Truth in that group failed but Congress approved a bill in 2006 to memorialize the black suffragist in a stand-alone sculpture.

E. Faye Williams said that Artis Lane was the first choice to produce the work.

Frank Sinatra’s family purchased her portrait of President Kennedy, Rosa Parks asked her to design her congressional Gold Medal, President Clinton bought her painting of Hillary and Artis Lane’s sculptures and paintings are in the private collections of Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou and Nelson Mandela. She has also created works for Michael Jordan, Quincy Jones and Armand Hammer.

artis-lane Today, at 81, Lane is celebrating what may be her greatest commission. “The world’s coming around to seeing black as beautiful,” Lane said in an interview at her home in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district. “When I came up, they were laughing at darker people.”

To help her prepare, Lane collected dozens of photographs and writings from Truth’s life. She read one of her favorite quotations aloud last week while she got ready for her trip to DC, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again. And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

In those days, as a woman over 6 feet tall and working in the fields, they accused her of being manly, Lane said. “She bared her chest and said ain’t I a woman? I’ve worked harder than some men in the fields, bleeding and have taken more whippings and all that.” She’s someone I deeply admire,” Lane said as she smiled.

Lane traces her earliest memory of sculpting to about age 4, when she took one of her grandmother’s dolls to a stream and tried to re-create the porcelain figure out of mud.

The granddaughter of abolitionist educators, Lane was born Artis Shreve in 1927 in North Buxton, an all-black town near Chatham in Ontario, Canada. She later moved about 100 miles west to Ann Arbor, Mich., where her father worked as a mechanic.

Lane said her ancestry is African and German and included among forebears is Mary Ann Shadd Cary, who launched the Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper. As a child, Lane quickly took to drawing. Her teachers often tried to force her to use her right hand, instead of her left. She went to college to study art in Toronto before switching to Cranbrook Academy of Art and then to UCLA. She became known early on for her portraits but has also gained fame in sculpting and other kinds of painting.

Last year, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presented Lane with the Dream of Los Angeles award. The California African American Museum honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 2007 and staged a retrospective of more than 60 years of her work.

Among the pieces included in the exhibition titled “A Woman’s Journey: The Life and Work of Artis Lane” were sculptures “Emerging Woman” and “Emerging First Man.” The emergence of the bronze figures from their ceramic molds symbolizes man’s emergence from material thinking into spiritual consciousness.

Even though much of her work is groundbreaking, she doesn’t consider herself a protest artist and said that instead she’s “making a statement of how the mortal man has disrupted the harmony of our lives.”

Below is from Sojourner Truth’s (1797-1883) most famous speech “Ain’t I A Woman”, adapted into poetic form by Erlene Stetson. Enjoy!

That man over there say

a woman needs to be helped into carriages

and lifted over ditches

and to have the best place everywhere.

Nobody ever helped me into carriages

or over mud puddles

or gives me a best place…Ain’t I a woman?

Look at me

Look at my arm!

I have plowed and planted

and gathered into barns

and no man could head me…Ain’t I a woman? 

I could work as much

and eat as much as a man

…when I could get to it…

and bear the lash as well…Ain’t I a woman?

I have born 13 children

and seen most all sold into slavery

and when I cried out a mother’s grief

none but Jesus heard me…Ain’t I a woman?

That little man in black there say

a woman can’t have as much rights as a man

cause Christ wasn’t a woman.

Where did your Christ come from?

From God and a woman!

Man had nothing to do with Him!

If the first woman God ever made

was strong enough to turn the world

upside down all alone,

together women ought to be able to turn it

rightside up again!



  1. That’s a wonderful story! It’s the truth

    Comment by Kerri — April 28, 2009 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

    • It really is a great thing for all women!!!

      Comment by Paulette — April 28, 2009 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

    • I keep making the mistake of thinking things like a statue of Sojourner Truth would not be allowed to stand with the statues of Stanton, Mott and Anthony just couldn’t happen now, in the 21st century, but how can I be wrong???
      Who voted against this I want to know! This makes me so mad I am forced to tears!! I blindly live my life believing that no one could really believe that he/she is better than someone else because her/his skin color is a different shade, or believes in a different religion, or for any reason, but I am wrong. Perhaps there was some other reason for this denial, some reasonable obstacle, or technicality or something that derailed Truth’s statue from its rightful station.
      I wonder what the rationale for not granting Truth this richly deserved place alongside other outstanding women abolitionists was exactly, and how did we allow it?

      Comment by Sandi Juarez — May 23, 2009 @ 3:35 pm | Reply

  2. […] “TRUTH” Comes To Washington, DC! […]

    Pingback by Daily News About President Obama : A few links about President Obama - Tuesday, 28 April 2009 18:21 — April 28, 2009 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  3. Great post, women need to be represented more in Washington and its great to see this happening. Hopefully this will influence other venues throughout America to take the initiative.

    Comment by sensico — April 29, 2009 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

    • Sensico – civil rights and the women suffrage movement have historically been like fraternal twins. They looked different but had the same DNA.

      I’m glad to see a strong black woman like Sojourner Truth now represented in a prominent manner in Washington. I have to pay her a visit.

      Comment by Paulette — April 29, 2009 @ 3:34 pm | Reply

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