Sojourner Truth, a former slave who met with Abraham Lincoln and was an early crusader for women’s right to vote and an end to slavery, is the first black woman to be honored with a bust at the Capitol.
First lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took part Tuesday in unveiling the abolitionist’s statue at the Capitol Visitor Center.
The sculpture will remain on permanent display in the underground center’s main space, called Emancipation Hall in part because slaves helped build the Capitol.
Truth met presidents Lincoln in 1864 and Ulysses S. Grant in 1870, and delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at a women’s rights convention in Akron, Ohio, in 1851. She tried to vote on two occasions, but was turned away both times. She died in November 1883 at her home in Battle Creek, Mich.
Few minority women are enshrined in the Capitol. There are several statues of American Indian women, but no Asian or Hispanic women, according Donald Ritchie, a Senate historian.
Many of the statues in the Capitol’s collection were given by the states in the 19th century, Ritchie said. Most of the collection’s diversity has come in the last several decades.
The National Congress of Black Women, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of black women and their families, has pushed for Truth to be memorialized in the Capitol for almost 10 years.
In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law a requirement that a bust of Truth be placed in a “suitable, permanent location in the Capitol.” Clinton co-sponsored the measure when she served in the Senate.
Artist Artis Lane created the bronze bust of Truth, which was paid for with private money.