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. (more…)