On Thursday Oct. 5, SUNY New Paltz welcomed sixth generation descendant of Sojourner Truth, Barbara Allen. Allen is a notable public speaker, teaching the legacy of her great-grandmother, as well as an author of multiple children’s books like “Remembering Great-Grandma Sojourner Truth” and “Journey with Great- Grandma Sojourner Truth.” The event which was held at the library was tasteful, professional and powerful with faculty, students and community organizers coming together to hear Allen’s purpose.
Sojourner Truth- born Isabella Baumfree- was a slave born to Dutch settlers of the Hudson Valley. Allen opened up the talk with a history of her family tree, explaining how she’s related to Truth as well as how her ancestors arrived in Battle Creek, Michigan. “I try to bring history, so we don’t lose it,” Allen told the audience.
Allen’s strong sense of pride moved the audience listening to her. Many people during the Q&A portion of the talk stood up to thank Allen for her time to come to the university, and how grateful they were to have an experience like this at their school. President Wheeler explained, “my initial thoughts coming into this space were: I want to be open to the possibilities of what it means for this university to honor the legacy and hearing about it in the first person.” He later added that it was a success in his eyes.
Anthony Dandridge was one audience member who was particularly grateful for the event. Dandridge, a lecturer in the department of Black studies and the executive director of the A.J. Williams-Meyers African Roots Center in Kingston, explained to The Oracle.“ To me this event means a variety of different things, but I guess I would start in terms of saying it speaks to my identity as being a person of African descent and the different ways in which I like to see our voices amplified and held high in the community and abroad.”
“That being said, as it relates to New Paltz, I think that it really helps New Paltz and embraces this idea of diversity as we start to move into a more diverse world. And there’s a shift that is going on, where I think that New Paltz is really in front of the curve as it relates to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice and belonging in the world,” added Dandridge.
A major theme of the event was forgiveness. Allen explained how Sojourner truth used forgiveness as a tool to guide her to freedom and ultimately Battle Creek. “She didn’t forget. She would never be able to forget that horror that happened to her in slavery. But she wanted to keep that conversation going and that dialogue was so she could make some type of change,” said Allen.
“I wanted to see the book because I want to be an illustrator. So that intrigued me a bit in the fact that she took her story and took her heritage and put it into a book. I thought that was a really fabulous idea,” explained Teisha Haff, a first semester transfer student studying art. During Allen’s talk, she promoted her children’s books that explain her family’s legacy.
“Remembering Great-Grandma Sojourner Truth” is told from Allen’s narrative, telling the stories she would hear growing up and “Journey with Great-Grandma Sojourner Truth” is a more historical fiction look into the life Truth lived. Both books discuss topics of faith and freedom for people of all ages. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to just learn new things. Like I would have never, you know, in my daily life of schooling grandkids,” said Haff.
As a token of New Paltz’s gratitude, Barbara Allen was given a limited-edition card featuring Truth’s original 1986 commemorative U.S. Postage Stamp presented by the Library Dean, Susan Frey. Overall, this event marks what New Paltz as a university is capable of providing for its students. There is a lot of work that can be done inside of the classroom, but events that allow you explore topics outside of the classroom is what truly makes a college experience.