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Hudson Valley News

Local Officials Want Sojourner Truth Statue In New Paltz

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The governor and lieutenant governor of New York announced in November that the state will dedicate two statues in commemoration of suffragists. One of the statues, of Sojourner Truth, will be sited along a trail in Ulster County. This has local officials calling for New Paltz to be selected as the statue’s home.

The statue announcement came on November 6 — the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said the statue of Sojourner Truth would be sited on the Empire State Trail in Ulster County and a statue of Rosalie Gardiner Jones would be built in Cold Spring Harbor State Park on Long Island. At the beginning of February, the New Paltz Town Board unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the Soujourner Truth statue be sited on the trail in its town. Dan Torres is deputy town supervisor. He says even though Truth was from Esopus, the Empire State Trail does not go there. Plus, there is a New Paltz connection.

“During her lifetime, when she referred to where she was from in Ulster County, she actually said New Paltz. In her own narrative she discusses that, from I believe 1810-1828,” Torres says. “So we feel like we have a strong connection with her both in her relevance to the local area but also in what she stood for I think very much represents the values of our community.”

Torres also has started a change.org petition saying that the New Paltz Town Board believes Truth's lifelong commitment to social justice, empowering underrepresented groups, and willingness to speak truth to power fits in with the long-held ideals of the New Paltz community.

“She was a troublemaker in the good way that John Lewis often describes,” says Torres. “And she stood up to powerful interests, and sought to make real change, and that’s exactly what she did.”

Village of New Paltz officials are following suit. Mayor Tim Rogers and the Board of Trustees on Wednesday also unanimously adopted a resolution, supporting the town’s, and formally requesting that the Sojourner Truth statue be placed on the Empire State Trail within the Town of New Paltz. KT Tobin is Village of New Paltz deputy mayor.

“I think Sojourner Truth is such an important person for us to focus on right now. She is emblematic, I think, of what the fight for gender equality has to focus right now on, which is intersectionality and listening to the voices that we haven’t listened to, marginalized voices,” Tobin says. “One-hundred-fifty-something years ago she was saying ‘ain’t I a woman’ and she was voicing what today we’re still struggling with is the issue of intersectionality in feminism.”

Plus, says Tobin, New York needs more statues of women. There are 25 statues on New York state property, but only two women: Dr. Mary Walker, a civil war surgeon, in Albany; and frontierswoman Mary Jemison in Letchworth State Park in the Genessee Valley.

“I would love for Sojourner Truth to have a statue in New Paltz so we can say, hey, we understand that we need to speak truth to power and we need to go out of our way to open our ears and listen to marginalized voices," says Tobin. "And she was at the head of that charge 150 years ago.”

Truth was born into slavery circa 1797, sold three times, and ultimately escaped to freedom in 1826. She became a noted abolitionist and women's rights advocate until her death in 1883.  A request for comment from the governor’s office and Empire State Trail director was not returned in time for this broadcast.

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