Rendering of the Sojourner Truth memorial in Akron, Ohio

photo by: Rendering by Dion Harris/GPD Akron

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza

  • Constructed: 2024
  • Location: Akron, Ohio

On May 29, 1851, Sojourner Truth—abolitionist, activist, author—delivered her most recognized speech, commonly known as “Ain't I a Woman?,” to a crowd gathered at the Universalist Old Stone Church in Akron, Ohio, for the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. In this speech, considered by historians to be one of the most important speeches related to abolition and women’s rights in United States history, Truth recalled the hardships endured along her personal journey from enslavement to abolitionist activist. Although the title of her speech is challenged by historians and journalists, her voice and words spoken in Akron prior to the legal ending of slavery will never be forgotten, because of the collaborative work of preservationists, locally and nationally to tell her story with the Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza.

Nearly two centuries later, the church building no longer stands, but the words spoken by Truth continue to reverberate today. Since 2018, a group of community partners have envisioned a fitting tribute space for reflection, education, and remembrance of Truth’s legacy, one that includes a statue and a public park. And with generous funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, provided resources, technical advice, partnership development, and community engagement to support the vision of the Sojourner Truth Project-Akron, United Way of Summit & Medina, and the Akron community.

A Community-Led Effort

Born in 1797 as Isabella Baumfree, Sojourner Truth was enslaved by multiple people in New York until she escaped in 1826. In 1827, she sued for and won the return of her son, who had been illegally enslaved. In 1843, she changed her name to Sojourner Truth and spent the rest of her years traveling and preaching about the causes she supported, dedicating her life to advocate for women’s and civil rights causes which she attributed to doing “God’s work.” In 1851, she delivered her groundbreaking speech in Akron, Ohio and continued fighting for justice for African Americans and women until her death in 1883. She is remembered as a leader, advocate, and an inspiration for all that believed in equality.

Historic photo of Sojourner Truth c. 1864

photo by: Library of Congress

Photo of Sojourner Truth c. 1864

The Summit Suffrage Centennial Committee—whose vision and leadership inspired renewed efforts of the Sojourner Truth Project-Akron is partnering with the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund in collaboration with the United Way of Summit & Medina and other community stakeholders to honor Sojourner Truth’s presence in Akron in 1851 with a space for remembrance, reflection, and education.

The ribbon cutting for the new Sojourner Truth Legacy Plaza took place in May 2024 on the anniversary of her speech, the statue was designed and created by Akron native and internationally recognized African American artist Woodrow Nash and is the first memorial statue of a Black woman in Akron. The design concept for the park was developed by African American landscape architect Dion Harris, and the overall project will act as a model for memorializing Black history through a collaborative and community-driven process. This approach will create a new era of placemaking that can be replicated in cities nationwide.

Direct community engagement is an important value and component of the project. Throughout this process, a committee of thought leaders—comprised of nationally recognized preservationists, scholars, and designers—serve as advisors on the memorial’s design and interpretation. The process of direct engagement has included prioritizing and soliciting input throughout the design and interpretation process of local stakeholder organizations, institutions, and individuals who will become co-stewards of this site in partnership with the property owner, United Way of Summit & Medina.

A Model for Placemaking

The work of the memorial goes beyond its planning and construction, emphasizing that the project is an exercise in placemaking, design, and equitable interpretation creating a place of gathering, community expression, and programming.

Informed by the groundbreaking work of the Sojourner Truth Project, schoolchildren from Akron will visit the future park and learn about Truth within the school system’s educational curriculum, while the broader public and heritage tourists for generations to come will experience the memorial to learn and be inspired about Truth’s life.

Beyond Akron—with generous support from the Knight Foundation—the Action Fund will collaborate with its partners to prepare a toolkit that:

  • Provides a community-driven, replicable methodology for memorialization of African American history and women through a collaborative design and preservation process with stakeholder and partnership engagement.
  • Builds case studies on how to implement education and interpretation of the site’s historical context and cultural themes with community outreach and participation.
  • Creates a model for replication of similar projects on a local and national level through documentation of the park project process.
  • Redefines preservation through design and interpretation in places where structures no longer remain.

In addition to remembering Sojourner Truth, the project will also create a local-national connection by recognizing and telling the story of other notable Black women in Akron whose life and service has inspired social justice and altruism just like Truth.

Project Partners

  • John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
  • African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund


  • Sojourner Truth Project-Akron
  • United Way of Summit & Medina
  • Akron Urban League
  • The Sojourner Truth Education Committee
  • Akron Community Foundation

Thought Leaders

  • Eto Otitigbe, Polymedia Artist, Assistant Professor of Sculpture, Brooklyn College
  • Ujijji Davis Williams, Landscape Architect, JIMA studio
  • Robert Louis Brandon Edwards, Cultural and Architectural Historian, Columbia University
  • LaNesha DeBardelaben, President and CEO, Northwest African American Museum
  • Daniela Tai, Architectural Designer, Quinn Evans Architects
  • Dr. Amber Wiley, Assistant Professor of Art History at Rutgers University
  • Michelle Lanier, Director, NC Division of State Historic Sites and Fellow, Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University

Join us in protecting and restoring places where significant African American history happened.

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