In her strong legs and the bare, vulnerable feet; in a long, deep gash on her back; in the upright posture and gaze; and in the sight of the two large jugs she is carrying are the visual reality that children lived as slaves in the United States. This statue is sure to inspire many stories and conversations about what this young girl lived through and triumphed over. The newly unveiled sculpture of Sojourner Truth as the child Isabella, in the Hudson Valley village of Port Ewen, will speak to generations about aspects of slavery in America that do not get enough attention.
The sculpture is likely to generate a greater focus on a woman who rose from her difficult beginnings as a slave to become one of the most prominent activists for freedom in American history. On Sept. 21, 2013, the Town of Esopus unveiled the sculpture of Truth in a ceremony that drew some 200 people. The unveiling capped an ambitious, painstaking initiative of several years by a group of Ulster County residents.
The striking sculpture is believed to be the only statue in the United States to show a slave child at work. It sits in an attractive corner plaza, a tiny place of peace amid many village storefronts and near the often traffic-filled intersection of Route 9W and Salem Street. The memorial doesn’t need to be huge or possess a grand promenade to portray history very powerfully. Instead, the sculpture’s life-like qualities in showing a young enslaved girl and its accessibility – on a short base that allows children to be on the same level as the sculpture – do so. Moreover, the power lies in how it documents a fact that many either do not know or neglect: Slavery existed in the North well into the 1800s.
Artist Trina Greene created the bronze sculpture, which shows Truth at about the age of 13 during the time that she was a slave whom a local man, Martinus Schryver, owned. Truth spent the first 29 years of her life as a slave in various Ulster County households, before she walked away in the pre-dawn darkness and escaped to her freedom one day in 1826. (See “Tracing Sojourner Truth’s Escape Route” on Mindfulwalker.com.) Schryver operated a tavern, and his family lived in a still-standing stone house on Route 9W just a half-mile from where the memorial is located.
The statue captures a child who is soft, vulnerable, and yet strong, not so different from many children her age. This is its power, too, an ability to bring home that slavery occurred to children who are like our children today. Truth, as the child Isabella, is a beautiful girl whose facial expression is open, serious, and perhaps pained in some way, but not defeated. [Read more →]