By Jennifer L. Warren
TOWN OF HIGHLAND – “Artistry is a powerful and useful tool for social transformation.”
These words were emphasized by local sculptor, Vinnie Bagwell, the genius crafter behind the newly dedicated and inspiring Sojourner Truth sculpture that now proudly stands at the Hudson State Park (Westside) on the Walkway over the Hudson. Bagwell, along with an intimate crowd, composed of state and local officials and others, gathered Wednesday morning at the historic Walkway spot to take part in the powerfully relevant unveiling of the legendary suffragist and abolitionist Truth, who sacrificed so much for the truth of justice, specifically the African-American woman’s right to vote as well as all slaves to be free, no matter the cost. When her own freedom was denied as a slave, Truth took her child, running not walking, to fight for their basic rights… regardless of the consequences.
“Sojourner Truth is still very relevant today because of all of the things she stood for: tenacity, fortitude, commitment, focus and integrity,” explained Bagwell. “When I worked on this piece, I really got to know her and see and feel her soul.”
It’s that very essence of Truth that many at the dedication spoke of keeping alive; doing so, is at the core of our present and future as a society. That continuum, containing a rich history of people and events from the past, can and must be made for multiple reasons.
“It’s not just about honoring these individuals as people from the past but for right now; young people especially need to see them and parents need to be able to explain who they were,” said Kathy Hochul, Lieutenant Governor of New York State and a member of the Women’s Suffragette Commission. “I want people to know the struggle women went through; this is a time in our history of reckoning right now.”
The towering grey sculpture of the six foot Truth (who chose that name for herself to represent her life journey’s purpose) was created with the intent of those viewing it to get up close to and feel the aura of this pioneer woman whose dedication to justice, fairness and simple equality positively changed infinite numbers of lives, empowering them with precious rights of freedom and voting.
Professor Dr. Margaret Washington from Cornell University has intensely studied Truth over the years, frequently speaking about the potency of her contributions to all people in her courses. Wednesday, on a beautiful summer morning, on the Walkway Over the Hudson, Washington told several detailed stories of Truth, her fiery and uncompromised spirit, as well as journey and indelible footprint she left. It’s that mark that remains just as strong and critical to know today.
“To me, Sojourner Truth means complete equality and humanity-what was most important about her,” said Washington. “She is still very relevant today; we are still challenged by the same issues of race, gender and social class today; if you can’t eat, then you can’t vote.”