NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — In the 1790s, when Sojourner Truth was born, she belonged to a man named Jacob Hardenbergh.
Truth, whose given name was Isabella Baumfree, was a slave. Hardenbergh owned the roughly 15 members of her immediate family.
He was also Rutgers University’s first president.
In a push to recognize the influence of slaves in the school’s history, the university Board of Governors moved this week to name the new 440-bed apartment building at The Yard on College Avenue after Truth, who became a storied abolitionist and women’s rights activist.
“We thought it was important to show the university is being responsive to this part of our history,” said Richard Edwards, chancellor of Rutgers New Brunswick. “We acknowledge there are other aspects to our story and we want to have a more complete portrayal of our history.”
During its meeting, the board also green-lit a proposal to name a walkway between Old Queens and Voorhees Mall in honor of a slave who helped build the administration building. Will’s Way, Edwards said, pays tribute to a man known only by his first name.
The renaming stemmed from recommendations made by a Rutgers committee that was charged with researching the roles that slaves and disenfranchised people played in establishing the university, Edwards said.
“It is not a triumphant history when you say my people were slaves, but it is a triumphant history when you say my people had a hand in the building of this nation,” said Deborah Gray White, a board member and history professor who chaired the committee.
While Truth fought for freedoms throughout the country, Will labored to build Old Queens, one of Rutgers’ most notable buildings.
Truth’s life is chronicled in history books. What little the world knows about Will came from an accounting ledger once owned by his master, who received $1 per day for Will’s work.
But the legacies of both now live on at Rutgers.
The board also voted to rename Livingston Campus’s Kilmer Library for James Dickson Carr. He was the first African-American graduate of the university, later becoming a widely respected attorney.