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Sojourner Truth Monument Unveiled
(Follow this link to read about the history of the project.)

MonumentPark.jpg (49369 bytes)BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- Almost 3,000 people cheered as Dr. Velma Laws-Clay, chair of the Sojourner Truth Dedication Committee declared, "the moment has arrived" during the dedication ceremonies for the Sojourner Truth Monument at the Kellogg Arena on September 25 .

The Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek and the committee have worked with the National Association of Negro and Black Professional Women (NANBPW) and other supporters since 1997 to develop the monument. The project was originally suggested by the NANBPW in 1993.

Battle Creek Mayor Ted Dearing officially welcomed Sojourner back to Battle Creek. "She will serve as a constant reminder of her messages of dignity, respect and freedom for all, messages that are just as relevant today as they were 100 years ago," Dearing said. "Let her serve as a reminder that though we have come far as a city we can do better, and let us not rest until all have freedom and equality."

State Representative Mark Schauer praised local residents for their support of the monument. "I have told the story in Lansing what one community can do to tell its history when people work together," Schauer said. He also noted that the State Legislature had proclaimed Sept. 25 as Sojourner Truth Day.

"Today we’re here to mark the legacy of a woman called Sojourner who will always be our conscience and our guide," Schauer said. "Today is about our future. We’re here so that Sojourner will live on for our children and their children." He complimented sculptor Tina Allen for her work on the impressive 12-foot bronze figure. "You have brought her back to life. She not only lives, but she will be listening and watching."

Cleopatra Vaughns, national president of NANBPW, compared the day’s events to other milestones in civil rights. "She serves as an icon for our group. Each of our members is considered a modern day Sojourner," Vaughns said.

Barbara Allen, a sixth-generation descendant of Sojourner Truth, thanked the city and monument supporters for honoring her ancestor. "It has only been in recent years that I understood the power she had," Allen said. "Though civil rights did not exist in her day, she would not be rejected."

Actress Nichelle Nichols, known for her role as Uhura in the original Star Trek television series and movies, made the formal introduction of her friend, Tina Allen. Nichols praised the musical groups that performed during the prelude for their inspiring performance.

"I did not know what gift God had for me today." she said. Nichols went on to note that Allen’s work included figures of Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. "She picked giants not afraid to speak the truth," Nichols said.

Allen took the stage to praise residents for the many "precious moments" they have given her. "At a time when the other parts of the country were speaking madness, Battle Creek was thinking differently."

The artist said that African-Americans today owe an obligation to previous generations that did not have the same opportunities. "We owe it to them to be the most useful, creative people we can," she said.

Allen’s remarks were followed by a 45-minute theatrical production entitled "Down By the Riverside" by Washington Productions, Inc. The play, which was commissioned by the Sojourner Truth Institute, tells the story of Sojourner Truth. It was written by Dr. Von H. Washington, Sr. Washington also directed the production, which featured professional actress CeCelia Ann Birt in the title role of Sojourner Truth.

"It really worked the way I thought it would," Washington said.

The artistic vision of the Sojourner Truth Monument Dedication was developed under the direction of Wyhomme Sellers Matthews. Matthews and a group of local artists worked for more than a year to design the program.

"I’m very proud of the quality of work this committee has created," Matthews said. "This tribute to Sojourner Truth would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of these talented people."

More than 12 musical and artistic groups participated in the dedication, including the Hope College Gospel Choir, the Battle Creek Boy Choir, the Battle Creek Girls Chorus, and the Kellogg Community College Eclectic Chorale among others. The dedication festivities also featured the artistic work of thousands of Calhoun County students through the Arts Focus on Truth program coordinated through the United Arts Council of Calhoun County. The Kellogg Arena activities were followed by a March for Truth from the arena to Battle Creek’s Monument Park led by the University of Michigan Marching Band.

The monument was unveiled at about 3:30 p.m., giving many in the community their first look at the sculpture. Before the covering over Truth was removed, Institute Administrator Michael Evans asked the crowd to take a moment to appreciate what it took to raise the monument.

"This is one of those rare defining moments," Evans said. "As we go forward I hope you’ll always appreciate what you’ve done."

On September 26, an ecumenical church service was held at the Mt. Zion AME Church, followed by a caravan to Sojourner Truth’s gravesite at Oak Hill Cemetery. Other related events included the Historical Society’s annual meeting honoring Sojourner Truth, the Sister II Sister Women’s Conference, the Michigan Press Women fall conference, and the Michigan Black History Network conference among others.

The monument project is funded in part by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the City of Battle Creek, the Kellogg Company, and the Battle Creek Community Foundation among other supporters. The $752,000 needed was raised through grants and private contributions.

For more information call (269) 965-2613.


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