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OHIO’s Ebony Bobcat Network to join local, state and national leaders in commemorating 170th anniversary of Sojourner Truth’s landmark speech

On May 29, 1851, human rights pioneer and advocate Sojourner Truth delivered her most famous speech—widely known as “Ain’t I a Woman”—at the Women’s Rights Convention held in Akron, Ohio. On May 20, 2021, the Akron/Canton affiliate of Ohio University’s Ebony Bobcat Network (EBN) will host a virtual celebration commemorating the 170th anniversary of that moment in Ohio, U.S., women’s rights and civil rights history.

The May 20 event kicks off at noon and will feature keynote speakers U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, who represents Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District and chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, and Debra Adams Simmons, executive editor for culture at National Geographic Magazine.

“A tenet of the Ebony Bobcat Network’s mission is to celebrate African American heritage and excellence,” said Tracy Carter, BBA ’93, president of the EBN’s Akron/Canton affiliate. “One of the most historic milestones in our Akron community is Sojourner Truth’s visit and speech promoting women’s rights. We want to seize this moment to showcase her legacy and our community’s involvement in advocating for women’s and civil rights.”

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree in 1797. She escaped slavery in 1827. As a participant in religious revivals during the early 1830s, she became and was recognized as a charismatic speaker. In 1843, she declared that the spirit of God called on her to preach the truth, renaming herself Sojourner Truth. She continued to preach and became increasingly involved in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. 

Drawing on her experience as a woman, slave and evangelist, Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech galvanized the growing women’s right movement. As a noted abolitionist, she continued to speak nationally and helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army during the Civil War, earning her an invitation to meet with President Lincoln in 1864.

In 1981, an Ohio Historical Marker was erected in Akron on the site of her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, and, in 2009, Truth became the first Black woman to be honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol. Last August, the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument—featuring Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—was unveiled in New York City’s Central Park, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and women’s right to vote. It is the first statue in the park to depict historical women. 

“Ohio University is committed to not only fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion in our community but also to being a national leader in these efforts,” said Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis. “I commend the Akron/Canton affiliate of our Ebony Bobcat Network for its vision and for spearheading this program. In uplifting the legacy of Sojourner Truth, we are reminded of the role each of us plays in continuing her work, and that of many others, and advancing our path toward a more just, equitable, diverse and inclusive society.” 

Joining the EBN in honoring Truth are local, state, national and Ohio University leaders, including several OHIO graduates. Speakers at the event include:

  • U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, who represents Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District, chairs the Congressional Black Caucus and earlier this year joined fellow members of House Democratic leadership in introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses wage discrimination on the basis of sex and would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963
  • Imani Edwards, BSS ’18, executive assistant to U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge
  • Cierra “CeCe” Hooks, an Ohio University senior and guard on the Ohio Women’s Basketball who was named All-American Honorable Mention, Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, MAC Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-MAC and MAC All-Defensive Team for the 2020-21 season
  • Daniel Horrigan, Mayor of Akron, who signed into law the city’s comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance, which also established the Akron Civil Rights Commission
  • Dr. Jack Marchbanks, PHD ’18, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation
  • Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis
  • Ilene Shapiro, Summit County Executive and the first woman in Ohio to serve as county executive
  • Debra Adams Simmons, a nationally recognized journalist and communications executive who is the executive editor for culture at National Geographic Magazine, was a 2016 fellow of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, and served as editor of The Akron Beacon Journal, managing editor and editor of The Plain Dealer and vice president of its parent company, Advance Local
  • Dr. Vernon Sykes, BBA ’74, the Ohio State Senator who represents the 28th District and is the Ranking Minority Member of the Ohio Senate Finance Committee
  • Angela Phelps-White, executive director of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission and former Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge

“It’s an honor to recognize the legacy of Sojourner Truth,” said Valerie Biggs-Hill, BSC ’78, president of the EBN National Board. “She was an abolitionist, a women’s rights activist, a human rights activist—all of these things at a time when African Americans and women were denied equal rights. That is what makes giving this American icon her just due so important. We cannot, and are not even positioned to, repay that debt. The most we can do is to honor her and recognize all that she did—and the magnitude of it, given the times in which she lived.”

There is no cost to attend the event, which will be streamed on Zoom.

Multiple levels of charitable sponsorship of this event are available. All money raised will benefit the Ebony Bobcat Network Urban Scholarship Endowment, which provides scholarships and professional development support to high-achieving students from Ohio’s urban school districts who are accepted into Ohio University’s Urban Scholars Program. For sponsorship information or to donate directly to the Ebony Bobcat Network Urban Scholarship Endowment, contact Kevin King, executive director of corporate engagement, at

“In leading this effort to raise awareness of Sojourner Truth’s legacy in respect to women’s rights, we hope to also provide opportunities for students to access an Ohio University education,” said Carter, who noted the role scholarships played in her higher education journey. “I’m a John Newton Templeton (Ohio University’s first African American graduate) Scholar. That’s how I arrived at Ohio University.”

The Ebony Bobcat Network, one of the Ohio University Alumni Association’s alumni networks, was founded in 2010. Today, EBN affiliates are located throughout Ohio and the United States, with the Akron/Canton affiliate being the network’s newest affiliate. 

May 3, 2021
Staff reports