Honoring Sojourner Truth

The coming Freedom Trail at Scenic Hudson's Shaupeneak Ridge will honor the abolitionist near where she walked to freedom

By Reed Sparling

Imagine being enslaved for 29 years — beginning at the moment of your birth.

Imagine being subjected to cruelty that permanently scars your body.

Imagine having someone renege on his promise to let you be free.

This was reality for Ulster County-born Sojourner Truth — until the moment in 1826 when she literally walked away from bondage, taking the first steps toward becoming one of the nation’s leading abolitionists and a civil rights and women’s suffrage pioneer. “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked,” Truth later explained. “But I walked off, believing that to be all right.” She carried her infant daughter on the 11.5-mile walk.

Sojourner Truth, 1870 (Photo: National Portrait Gallery / CC0)

This fall, Scenic Hudson will install an interpretive trail honoring Sojourner Truth at the Shaupeneak Ridge preserve, not far from the route of her escape up and over the ridge. The short woodland trail will feature 6 panels tracing the course of Truth’s life. By highlighting her accomplishments, it seeks to educate and inspire others to continue her legacy.

The trail was envisioned by Helena Mazurek, a Student Conservation Association member at Scenic Hudson, and developed in collaboration with other staff and community members. “I really wanted people to get to know Sojourner Truth as a person, and not some unattainable historical figure — how she was a really fiery, courageous person and used all that power to advocate for others,” Mazurek says. “She spent her life giving to make things better for everyone. That level of generosity and compassion really drove her story home for me personally.”

Mazurek also was impressed by Truth’s fortitude during her escape. “I walked along Shaupeneak Ridge just the other day and was thinking a lot about how incredible it was she managed to achieve this carrying a baby,” she says. “Attending to one while hiking around rather steep inclines at night where there are predators does not seem easy.” 

On a nearly cloudless morning in early August, members of Harambee Kingston gathered at Shaupeneak Ridge to bless the land over which the new trail will pass. In a moving ceremony including music, dance and words, participants recounted Truth’s life and explained how her example has fueled their own activism.

“The biggest thing that I get from Truth’s story is resilience, perseverance, strength and determination. These are the things that inspire me in my life, to never give up,” shared Jessieca McNabb.

“Just when I think I’m too tired to keep going, I think of what she must have been going through to get what she had to get done.  And that is what motivates me and keeps me going.”  

Painting of Sojourner Truth and Abraham Lincoln (Photograph of painting by R.D. Bayley, Battle Creek, Michigan_Library of Congress – Public Domain)

Recently, Truth also was honored with a sculpture near the Highland welcome center on Walkway Over the Hudson. In addition to a larger-than-life representation, the bronze monument includes images of a young enslaved mother and child, a slavery sale sign and a poster for a women’s suffrage march.

“The design is intended to provoke critical thinking, create a sense of place, and inform viewers that artistry is a powerful and useful tool of social transformation,” sculptor Vinnie Bagwell says. “My hope is that visitors of this special place will be able to leave with the ability to appreciate and affirm the strength and beauty of ethnic, gender and cultural pluralism; and now — more than ever — feel a sense of responsibility for the future of liberty and freedom for all people.”