African-American academic to be honored with sculpture
RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) — The first black president of an American college will be the next Rutlander honored with a downtown sculpture.
Organizers of the Rutland Sculpture Trail announced Thursday that Martin Henry Freeman had been selected as the subject of the first of two sculptures planned for this year. The sculpture is funded by a trio of local families — the Wakefields, Jennifer and Fred Bagley, and Donald Billings and Sara Pratt.
Organizer Steve Costello said Freeman, the descendant of freed slaves, was born in Rutland in 1826, and was among the first African-Americans to enroll at Middlebury College, graduating as salutatorian in 1849. He left Vermont for Pennsylvania and a job at Allegheny Institute and Mission Church, a black college later renamed Avery College, where within a few years he was named president. He was the first African-American president of an American college, but historians said the achievement only carried him so far.
“Freeman’s experiences in Pittsburgh fostered in him an ideological shift,” Middlebury history professor William Hart wrote in an essay published on the college’s website in 2016. “The white working-class openly insulted him ‘in the streets (and) . in public conveyances,’ reminding him that ‘neither education nor moral excellence . nor courtesy of manner’ made any difference in how whites treated blacks.”
In 1864, Freeman left the United States for Liberia. He taught at Liberia College, once again rising to become the school’s president. He died in 1889.
Organizers are seeking proposals from artists interested in designing and making a clay model that would serve as the basis for the larger marble sculpture. Artists wishing to apply should send a resumé, a proposal and up to 10 digital images or slides to The Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland by April 19. The sculpting is planned for the summer.
This is the seventh sculpture in the series honoring people with connections to Rutland and the surrounding area. Previous entries have honored stone workers, Rudyard Kipling, Ann Story and Andrea Mead Lawrence. The sixth, depicting the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment — the first official all-black unit of the U.S. Army, as depicted in the movie “Glory” — was completed in October but has yet to be installed. Costello said there were technical problems regarding the plan to mount the sculpture.
“By the time we had got our arms around how to do that and realized it was going to take a bunch of epoxy, it was too cold,” he said.
The plan now is to mount that sculpture in May, Costello said, following a showing of “Glory” at the Paramount Theatre.
The original plan was for a total of 10 sculptures.
“When we first started, we said that, but now we’ve expanded our horizons,” Costello said. “As long as we can keep finding interesting subjects and people to fund them, we’ll keep going. ... We’re not quite there yet, but we will have another one this year. There’s a lot of cool history that isn’t really well known and would generate a lot of interest for local people and visitors.”
Information from: Rutland Herald, http://www.rutlandherald.com/