In November 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an address honoring the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York that he wanted two new statues of women to honor the anniversary. One of the two women that Cuomo mentioned was Sojourner Truth, a former slave, abolitionist and women’s rights activist who resided in New Paltz from 1810-1828.
Cuomo mentioned in the same November address that the Sojourner Truth statue is to be built on the Empire State Trail in Ulster County. At the Feb. 1 New Paltz Town Board meeting, board members discussed the idea of having the Sojourner Truth statue in New Paltz as they unanimously voted to ask the state about the statue being built in New Paltz.
The idea for a statue of Truth to be in New Paltz was thought of by the town’s deputy supervisor Dan Torres right after Cuomo gave the address.
“I thought of the idea right after I read Gov. Cuomo’s press release in November,” Torres said. “Since it was our Feb. 1 meeting, I thought what better time to discuss this idea than in February since it is Black History Month.”
Torres mentioned that he started an online petition on change.org regarding the potential statue that has over 560 signatures in just two weeks. Torres also touched on why it makes sense from a historical standpoint to have the Truth statue in New Paltz.
“From her own words, Truth said that she lived in New Paltz from 1810-1828,” Torres said. “While she technically didn’t live in what is modern-day New Paltz, she still considered New Paltz her home at one point in her life.”
While Torres appreciates the support the community has shown for Truth in recent years, he is disappointed that it took this long.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if Sojourner Truth was white and a male, there would’ve been a statue of her decades ago.”
Truth gained her freedom from slavery in 1828, becoming an influential figure in advocating for women’s rights up until her death in 1883. She wasn’t always known as Sojourner Truth, she was born as Isabella Baumfree in 1797. She later changed her name to Sojourner Truth in 1843, after becoming a Methodist.
If the measure is approved by the state, New Paltz wouldn’t be the only town in Ulster County to have a statue of Truth. In October 2013, a statue of Truth was unveiled in the town of Esopus located at the corner of Route 9W and Salem Street in Esopus. Torres also mentioned that there are statues of Truth in Florence, Massachusetts and Battle Creek, Michigan, which is the town that Truth died and is buried in.
Truth is also honored in the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. as she is the first African American woman to have a bust sculpture on display in the Capitol. The bust was unveiled in 2009 as the unveiling included remarks from former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
While a potential location for the statue has not been set yet, Torres has an idea of where the statue should be.
“I think a good place for the statue would be by La Stazione on Main St. near where the rail trail is,” Torres said. “The statue would generate good traffic if it was placed there.”
If this idea comes to fruition, it would be the third place in New Paltz that would honor Truth, as the college’s library was dedicated to Truth in 1971 after it’s opening in 1969. There is also Sojourner Truth Park located on Plains Rd. in New Paltz. Torres said that the Village of New Paltz board is expected to vote on this idea in the coming days and Torres anticipates that the village board will be in agreement with the town board on this idea.
When asked the importance of Sojourner Truth to New Paltz, Torres discussed the way she carried herself.
“Sojourner Truth was a radical woman during her time. She stood up to authority when she felt it was necessary, this includes her stating that she “walked” away from slavery instead of “running” from it,” Torres said. “She spoke truth to power and to me, Sojourner Truth embodied the spirit of our current community.”