In 2018 and 2019, many commentators criticized the proposed design of a new suffrage memorial for Central Park, because it only included Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and did not include any black suffrage activists. In August 2019, the committee responsible announced that they would adapt the design to include African American activist Sojourner Truth, but they refused to offer any images of the new proposal until the day that it could be voted on by New York City’s Public Design Commission.
As a result, the Washington Street Advocacy Group worked with the Harlem Historical Society to prepare a group letter of scholars that advocated for more careful thought about including Sojourner Truth and the history of black suffrage. We stressed that a design that simply showed Truth working together with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Stanton’s home could obscure the substantial differences between white and black suffrage activists. We argued that while there could be elegant ways to memorialize the full scope of the suffrage movement, there should be additional consideration, explicitly including black community voices and scholars of this history.
This letter led to widespread input by scholars and experts, and received substantial press coverage. At the hearing where the design was unveiled, the City delayed its acceptance until a number of issues could be addressed. Although a design was approved weeks later, ultimately the artist did make significant changes to body language and composition that responded to the criticisms of the Washington Street Advocacy Group and the Harlem Historical Society and the experts we had consulted.
Hyperallergic, August 21, 2019: https://hyperallergic.com/514079/historians-raise-concerns-over-central-parks-suffragist-monument/
amNY, August 21, 2019: https://www.amny.com/news/moment-of-truth-for-suffragettes-statue/
The Architect's Newspaper, August 22, 2019: https://www.archpaper.com/2019/08/sojourner-truth-central-park-statue/
Smithsonian Mag, August 29, 2020: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/monument-controversy-women-pioneer-central-park-180975662/
Patch, September 12, 2019: https://patch.com/new-york/central-park/scholars-still-concerned-central-park-suffrage-monument
amNY, Septmber 13, 2019: https://www.amny.com/news/central-park-statue-women-1-36270278/
Hyperallergic, September 16, 2019: https://hyperallergic.com/517626/vote-on-central-parks-contested-suffragist-monument-is-postponed/
New York Post, October 21, 2019: https://nypost.com/2019/10/21/central-park-to-get-its-first-statue-honoring-women/