The eighth piece on the Rutland Sculpture Trail honors one of America’s earliest civil rights advocates and the first Black college president in the country. The work will be unveiled Friday, Nov. 20 at noon. The public is invited to attend the outdoor event in the Center Street Marketplace; masks are required, and attendees are asked to maintain social distancing.
The sculpture of Rutland native Martin Henry Freeman is a powerful tribute featuring a larger-than-life bust set upon a stack of huge books, all carved from marble donated by Vermont Quarries in Danby. It was designed by Massachusetts artist Mark Burnett and carved by West Rutland artist Don Ramey.
Freeman was born May 11, 1826 and lived on Main Street in Rutland. He attended Middlebury College, graduating in 1849 as salutatorian, and became a stalwart abolitionist and advocate for the education of Black Americans.
The grandson of a slave who earned his freedom by fighting in the Revolutionary War, Freeman became president of the Allegheny Institute, later known as Avery College, in Pennsylvania. Despite his professional success, Freeman grew disillusioned by Civil War-era America, and was convinced that Black men and women would never be treated as equals in this country.
He became a leading advocate to encourage former slaves to return to Africa for a greater chance at self-determination, and he eventually emigrated to Africa himself, where he became a professor, and later president, at Liberia College until his death in 1889.
The initiative is lead by the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center, Green Mountain Power, MKF Properties, and Vermont Quarries to create art and beautify downtown, generate community pride, and honor local and regional history.