SHARE
The new statue of Fred­erick Dou­glass, unveiled this Friday. Col­legian | Breana Noble

Fred­erick Dou­glass returned to Hillsdale College per­ma­nently on Friday.

College Pres­ident Larry Arnn unveiled the “fierce,” 7-foot-tall bronze statue of the famous freed slave and abo­li­tionist orator — who spoke at the college on Jan. 21, 1863 — to a standing ovation of around 300 college stu­dents, staff, faculty, and vis­itors packed into Kresge Plaza between Lane and Kendall halls.

“We think of him as a wrathful man too much,” Arnn said. “Really, he was a per­suasive, thinking, talking man…[The statue] shows the emotion that drove that man, and that emotion was not hate. That emotion was love.”

The sculpture depicts Dou­glass at the height of his oratory prowess around the age of 43, about the time he visited Hillsdale the first time. Standing with one step forward in a power position, Dou­glass conveys the force he used in his words, sculptor Bruce Wolfe said.

“I hope people have some sort of reality,” Wolfe said. “He had a certain amount of ferocity to him, but it looked like he knew who he was. He looked like he knew what he could con­tribute, and he walked a very narrow line between going way beyond and not going far enough, and that’s a hard one to get.”

In homage to his writing and speaking abil­ities, Dou­glass also holds a book — one of his three auto­bi­ogra­phies, according to Wolfe — in his arm.

Dou­glass faces the Alpha Kappa Phi Civil War memorial in the middle of the plaza, the first statue of the Liberty Walk which depicts a soldier rep­re­senting the stu­dents who served and died in the war. The college also turned the statue of Abraham Lincoln, which stands across from Dou­glass, slightly to face the Civil War memorial.

“Fred­erick Dou­glass looks exactly at that soldier, the person who paid the price standing for all of us who must pay the price,” Arnn said. “It’s right, if you’re the former slave, to look at the soldier with resolve…[Lincoln] looks across at the soldier with solemnity, almost sadness, because, of course, he was the man that gave the command that led to the last full measure of devotion.”

Fol­lowing the unveiling, Lucas Morel, pro­fessor of pol­itics at Wash­ington and Lee Uni­versity, said the issues and ideas Dou­glass dis­cussed remain in debate today. Morel ques­tioned what Dou­glass would think of the country, with the out­break of protests and violent inci­dences at col­leges like the Uni­versity of Cal­i­fornia, Berkeley and Mid­dlebury College to prevent guests from speaking on cam­puses.

“Why this des­per­ation to prevent the free dis­cussion that Dou­glass argued was the key to the triumph of truth?” Morel said. “This likens to the inse­curity slave-holding soci­eties dis­played as they cen­sored the males, pro­hibited speeches and even sermons that argued for the equality of men and, therefore, the denial of slavery. Of all the depri­va­tions Dou­glass attributed to slavery, the denial of an edu­cation ranked as the worst of slavery’s ills.”

Morel said in his edu­cation and under­standing of America’s founding doc­u­ments, Dou­glass found the path to freedom. Dou­glass argued against “racial pride” and special priv­i­leges to freed slaves, finding his identity in the American prin­ciple of equality of rights, Morel said.

“As we reflect upon this statue of Fred­erick Dou­glass, may his words and deeds serve as a guide for our own age where the American college is con­sidered, it appears not to know how to cul­tivate a truly free mind or a respon­sible char­acter,” Morel said. “In hon­oring Dou­glass, we honor the best America has to offer in service to human equality and our con­sti­tu­tional way of life.”

In 1863, a couple weeks after the Eman­ci­pation Procla­mation, Dou­glass spoke at Hillsdale for the women’s lit­erary society in the college’s chapel on “Popular Error and Unpopular Truth.” He returned to the com­munity on Sept. 27, 1888, to cam­paign for Ben­jamin Harrison’s pres­i­dential run.

Sophomore Katarina Bradford said she loves to learn about Hillsdale College’s history, noting it was the first college to pro­hibit dis­crim­i­nation based on race, religion, and sex in its charter.

“It’s won­derful that we’re hon­oring Fred­erick Dou­glass and the school is enduring this past as a sym­bolism of our freedom and fighting for humankind,” Bradford said.

Junior Vic­toria Watson said the instal­lation brings her studies to light in a new way.

“We have pres­i­dents and Mar­garet Thatcher, but it’s nice to see Fred­erick Dou­glass, who is a very important his­torical figure,” Watson said. “We honor him in the classroom, but it’s nice to see the ded­i­cation to what we learn.”

Junior Nathan Lehman said he was impressed with the artistry of the sculpture with the details on Dou­glass’ jacket and the realism of his hair.

“It looks like you could reach out and touch it,” Lehman said.

Hillsdale College announced the project in 2014, the first statue since the com­pletion of Ronald Reagan in 2011. It selected award-winning sculptor Bruce Wolfe, who also made Hillsdale’s Mar­garet Thatcher statue, from several artists in May 2015. The statue took about a year to com­plete, Wolfe said.

One of the chal­lenges Wolfe said he faced was having to sculpt a person no longer alive. Although Dou­glass was the most pho­tographed person of the 19th century (one famous image was taken in Hillsdale), he still needed a model. He found his Dou­glass in Joel Hart, who he met at his granddaughter’s soccer game. Hart’s daughter was on the opposing team.

“I said: ‘But I don’t look like Fred­erick Dou­glass,’” Hart said.

He said Wolfe explained to him how he resembled Dou­glass’ height and size for the body of the statue.

“I was like: ‘Shoot, I’m in,’” Hart said.

He said he hopes even­tually to bring his wife and children to see it: “Everyone else will be seeing Fred­erick Dou­glass, but they’ll be seeing their dad with Fred­erick Dou­glass’ head.”

The statue was made in memory of Wanda Nagy. Her husband and the sculpture’s bene­factor, James, said he orig­i­nally was hoping to fund a tribute in honor of former Pres­ident John Adams or his son at the college but chose to support the Dou­glass project after learning about it. His wife had sup­ported a statue of Sojourner Truth, also an escaped slave and out­spoken abo­li­tionist, in their hometown of Battle Creek, Michigan.

“When we got married and she was in her mid-20s, she let me look into her purse, and she had a pocket Con­sti­tution that was…well-used; what 20-year-old do you know that walks around with a copy of the Con­sti­tution?” James Nagy said. “I think she probably would have liked this.”

Arnn said the Dou­glass statue should show the impor­tance of the prin­ciple of equality for which Dou­glass fought and it should remind people of their own power.

“Fred­erick Dou­glass came here to remind us what a college is,” Arnn said. “It’s not just a procla­mation of the evil of slavery. It’s a procla­mation on the nature of man — of all of us, of what we can do, of what we’re made for.”