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WCU erects statue to honor Frederick Douglass

Colleen Cummings

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On Oct. 1, 2013, West Chester University unveiled the Frederick Douglass statue outside of Phillips Memorial Hall, at what is now called the Clifford E. and Inez E. DeBaptiste Plaza. The artist, Richard Blake, West Chester University’s president, Greg Weisenstein, faculty, students, alumni, and members of the Frederick Douglass Institute circled around the statue draped in a purple cloth tied loosely with a gold rope.
Frederick Douglass was a former slave who became an abolitionist and writer after securing his freedom. His novel, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was revolutionary in exposing the horrific realities of slavery in America, especially in the South.
The West Chester University Brass Ensemble began the ceremony with “God Bless America” and the Gospel Choir chimed in with a few songs of their own. A Frederick Douglass reenactment actor, Fred Morsell, began the speeches: “[Douglass} was a patriot…through his speaking and writing he has inspired thousands to believe the same. This statue honors two people: Douglass and you, the West Chester University community. Douglass stands as the spirit of success, if he could move from hatred to love to becoming an honored and proud citizen of the United States of America, you have every reason to do everything you can to become the best person you can be.”
The crowd was large, with rows of white chairs filled directly in front of the statue. Guests fanned themselves with pamphlets detailing the order of events and speeches. Students and faculty gathered behind the chairs, scattering all the way to Main Hall. The Frederick Douglass Institute associates were sitting on the benches surrounding the new statue. Many faculty members showed up to support the ceremony, and the art department was largely present. The sculptor of the statue, Blake, is a former faculty member of the art department at WCU and is now a sculptor with works displayed internationally.
President Weisenstein took to the podium and gave a speech to the audience.
“This is a very important moment in West Chester University’s history. This statue serves as an inspiration to our students to reflect on the accomplishments of Douglass and what he was able to accomplish against all odds.”
After an hour and a half, the statue was finally unveiled. The statue is a life-size statue of Douglass in his youth carrying a broken rope to represent his freedom from the bondage of slavery. Benches are circled around Douglass. The crowd cheered and rushed to capture the first photographs of the statue ever to be taken.
Frederick Douglass is important to West Chester University, and has a history with the school. Douglass gave many speeches at West Chester University. It was discovered in 1992 that Douglass gave his last speech on WCU’s campus on Feb. 1, 1895. He died 19 days after. The Frederick Douglass Institute, according to their website, is “guided by the spirit and his legacy, the Institute aims to create opportunities to build a better community for all of us to fulfill our destiny as human beings. Through the leadership of WCU, there are Frederick Douglass Institutes at all fourteen campuses of the Pennsylvania State Universities System.” West Chester University was the first university to create an institute in honor of Douglass. The university also dedicated the top floor of Sykes to Douglass, and there is a scholarship available to students in his name.
The statue is another head nod in regards to Douglass from West Chester University and the Frederick Douglass Institute. The statue stands tall and proud on campus, and is a reminder to students that nothing is impossible with enough passion, hard work, good morals, and strength within one self. The statute provides inspirations for students and faculty alike.
Colleen Cummings is a third-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The Student News Service of West Chester University
WCU erects statue to honor Frederick Douglass