ANGOLA — Hundreds of people gathered in the sweltering heat Sunday afternoon to welcome the new statue of Sojourner Truth in front of the Steuben County Courthouse.
“I believe if my great grandma were here today, she would say well done, Indiana. Well done,” said Barbara Allen, sixth generation descendant of Truth and author of the children’s book “Remembering Great Grandma Sojourner Truth.” “And we would say to her, well done, Sojourner. Well done.”
The life-size bronze statue is the product of a Preserving Women’s Legacy Grant from Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, granted to the Downtown Angola Coalition last year. The $40,000 grant as well as a $15,000 grant from First Federal Savings Bank of Angola and several in-kind contributions have made this project possible.
Speakers and spectators from all over came to celebrate the long-awaited statue. The ceremony began with a performance of Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech by Novella Nimmo, a historical interpreter who works with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
Dressed in period clothing, Nimmo captivated the audience despite technical difficulties with the sound.
“The only difference between me and you is the hue of my skin,” she said. “God gave you dominion over animals. He didn’t give you dominion over us.”
The speech voiced Truth’s passion about equality not only for blacks but also women.
“Now that man over there in black, he said women can’t have as much rights as men because Jesus Christ wasn’t a woman,” Nimmo said. “I say, where did your Christ come from?”
After Nimmo’s riveting introduction, Downtown Coalition President Colleen Everage took the stage to welcome the crowd and explain the inspiration behind the organization’s desire for a statue of Truth.
Following Everage was Mike Biesiada, local historian and author of “With Courage and Conviction: Orland, Indiana and the Abolitionist Movement”. Biesiada provided a brief history of Truth’s life and the situations that arose during her stay in Steuben County.
Kiera Amstutz, representing Indiana Humanities, then addressed the audience about the organization’s goals and expressed her gratitude for the public’s attendance as well as for the descendants who were present at the ceremony.
“The fact that you came here today to be part of this moment and to be part of the telling of history that we all need to hear, we are grateful to you,” said Amstutz.
Downtown Coalition board member and Herald Republican editor Mike Marturello provided further information about the descendants whom he had located and others who had interest in the project before inviting Allen to the podium to speak.
Allen explained the inspiration for her children’s book about Sojourner and how her great grandmother has had an influence on all of her descendants.
“My great grandma heard the call from God,” she said. “Sojourner believed that everyone deserves freedom, dignity and respect.”
Because Nimmo’s original performance had been difficult to hear, she performed again when the microphone was working. The crowd was elated to better hear her impassioned speech once more.
“If women want more rights than they got, you better go ahead and take them and not wait on no God to give ‘em to you. Because as you see, the more we live, the more they take. So I say to the women, stand up. Fight for your rights.”
Building on the emotional wake of Nimmo’s speech, Mayor Hickman declared June 10 to be Sojourner Truth day in Angola and welcomed Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch to speak.
Crouch commended Truth for her dedication to her values and Indiana for recognizing her legacy.
“We never will be able to appreciate where we are if we don’t know from where we came,” she said.
Crouch believes the statue will serve as a reminder to all to stand up for what is right, not what is popular. She also told the audience a bit about Steuben County’s abolitionist past, noting the county voted overwhelmingly against the 1851 constitution that forbade “Negroes” from living in the state.
With a final word from Everage, the sheet was lifted off the statue, and Truth’s bronze stare emerged to greet the crowd.
Descendants and strangers alike surged forward to get photos of Angola’s newest historical landmark and share in the joy of remembering Steuben County’s role in the abolitionist movement.
The Sojourner Truth statue watches over the northwest corner of the Steuben County Courthouse courtyard and can be seen just to the right, or west, of its entrance.