Sculpture of first black college president unveiled in Rutland

Rutland County

RUTLAND, Vt. (WFFF) — The first African American college president called Rutland home in the 1800s. On Thursday, a sculpture was unveiled downtown to mark the 195th birthday of Martin Henry Freeman.

The sculpture was crafted from the only known photo to exist of Freeman. His great-great-great-grandson was there for the unveiling. “There’s a huge way we could have never known about this,” said Robert Dennis. “As we put it, this was meant to be.”

Dennis only became aware there was a model of one of his ancestors underway when his cousin was working on their family tree. “He was just doing some DIY genealogy and was able to connect with the people in Rutland,” he said.

Martin Freeman fought in the Revolutionary War and became president of the Allegheny Institute in Pennsylvania. He later traveled to Africa in hopes of escaping racism, where he became a professor and president of Liberia College.

The artwork was a collaboration between sculptor Mark Benett and carver Don Ramey. It took more than six months of combined work. “We both agreed that we should use a darker stone,” Ramey said. “I showed some samples of what I could do with different tools to make the hair texture.”

People on hand noted that Freeman’s writing around abolition are very much applicable to issues society faces today.

“I want them especially in this day of age, to continue his work of inclusion and fairness for all, and importance of scholarship,” Dennis said.

The sculpture was funded by the Wakefield family, who hopes this will form an increased understanding of African American history.

“We’ve had a hand in Vermont’s history that’s been here-for unrecognized,” said Alvin Wakefield. “That’s happening here in Rutland.”

It’s the 8th piece of artwork added to the Rutland Sculpture Trail.

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