|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
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 were 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. Were 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
days 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 Allens 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.
Allens 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
"It really worked the way I thought it would," Washington
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.
"Im 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 Creeks 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 youll always appreciate what youve done."
On September 26, an ecumenical church service was held at the Mt.
Zion AME Church, followed by a caravan to Sojourner Truths gravesite at Oak Hill
Cemetery. Other related events included the Historical Societys annual meeting
honoring Sojourner Truth, the Sister II Sister Womens 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.