By Ann-Marie Adams
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressional staffer Trinita Brown has walked the halls of the United States Congress for 18 years, passing through the Emancipation Hall in the visitor’s center. Over the years, though, she has adjusted to one thing—that the faces on all the “suffragists” statues were of white women.
“I actually wasn’t surprised,” Brown said in a matter-of-fact way after taking notice. “Pictures of people of color, in general, are missing from the Capitol.”
A chocolate, bronze bust of a black woman has added a splash of color to a 20,000 ft. room enclosed by white granite walls and dotted with white marbled sculptures.
Last Tuesday, Brown was joined by other staffers, hollywood celebrities and First Lady Michelle Obama in the Emancipation Hall Capital Visitor Center to witness the unveiling of a sculptured bust of Sojourner Truth, the first memorial to a black woman. There, in the center of the hall, was a beautifully craved bust of Truth, which was omitted because of the racism of her time and years later.
Sojourner Truth was an enslaved Black Woman, born Isabella Baumfree in 1797. She worked to abolish slavery and fought for women’s right to vote. The separate memorial to Sojourner came about when it was discovered that Sojourner had been left off the Portrait Monument that commemorates the right of women to vote. Agreeing to a stand-alone memorial of Sojourner Truth finally corrects the injustice of leaving her off the original monument, organizers said.
“[Delores Tucker] felt it was an injustice that Sojourner was left out. That’s why she spent her life trying to correct that injustice,” said Bill Tucker, husband of the late C. Delores Tucker who chaired the National Congress for Black Women, Inc.
The bust was donated by the NCBW, now chaired by E. Faye Williams. But it was the former chair, C. DeLores Tucker, whose decade-long struggle to shepherd in the new face lift to the Capitol, community activists praised at a recent gathering in D.C. Tucker died in 2005 before her effort resulted in the passage of a Bill on Dec. 6, 2006 to memorialize the work of Sojourner Truth. The final effort was later led in the House by Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and in the Senate by Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arlen Specter, among others.
At the official unveiling, NCBW members and friends came to Washington from all over the country to see First Lady Michelle Obama do the unveiling honors. Celebrities were spotted in D.C from the day before, attending a reception in honor of the sculptor, Artis Lane. Dawn Lewis of It’s a Different World Fame, Radio One’s Cathy Hughes and movie actress Alfre Woodard were spotted mingling with the VIP audience at the lavishly adorned FedEx Corporate House.
In the Capitol’s rotunda, actress Cicely Tyson performed Sojourner’s “Ain’t I A Woman” speech, which was first delivered at a Women’s Conference in Akron, Ohio. It was a speech was “so powerful that it is credited with igniting the Women’s Suffrage Movement.”
Many onlookers agreed it was a historic and spine-tingling occasion to be treasured.
“We hope that in the years to come, families will make it a point to find the Sojourner Truth memorial, and pause to honor her sacrifices for all of us. Just as she struggled to correct injustices to women and to Black people, the members of NCBW struggled to bring Truth to the Capitol.”
Below is Sojourner Truth’s poem “Ain’t I A Woman”
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter.
I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?
Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.
Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.