Martin Henry Freeman, first President of Black School within the USA, honored with sculpture in Vermont

Slowly but surely, efforts are being made to offset the extent of the documentation of this country’s history, in part with decisions that honor Americans with landmarks such as sculptures and statues.

In Vermont, a blindingly white state with black residents making up only 1.4% of the population, an initiative to recognize local historians from the area has resulted in the creation of a bust in honor of Martin Henry Freeman, the first black college president in the United States United States

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AP reported on the recent installation of a Freemans-like sculpture in downtown Rutland, Vermont. Freeman was born in Rutland in 1826 and rose to serve as President of the All-Black Allegheny Institute and Mission Church in 1856, now known as Avery College.

The news of Freeman’s sculpture introduced me to his fascinating story, which not only included leadership roles in science at a time when black opportunities were still strictly overridden by law, but also covered his achievements as far as Liberia.

From AP:

Freeman’s academic success prevailed at Middlebury College, where he was the only black student in a state to first abolish adult slavery in 1777. Abolitionists in the city had urged Middlebury to enroll black students to demonstrate that the school was genuinely anti-slavery, said William Hart, professor emeritus of the history of illicit exploration at Middlebury College.

Freeman taught math and natural philosophy at the Allegheny Institute and Mission Church in the Pittsburgh area, where he became president in 1856. He supported the colonization of Liberia for black Americans and abruptly resigned in 1863 with a plan to teach at Liberia College.

He went to Liberia, as he often said, to be a man he believed couldn’t be in the United States, Hart said. It was an act of self-determination, he said. But unlike Freeman, many of the black Americans who went to Liberia were biracial, the sons and daughters of former slaves, Hart said. Freeman was dark-skinned and felt discriminated against there too.

He taught at Liberia College and later became its president. He died in Monrovia in 1889.

Freeman’s sculpture is part of the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, which was set up to highlight the “profound impact” black Vermonters have had on the community in the past. The sculpture was designed by the African American artist Mark Burnett, who lives in Vermont.

It may take years for the many blacks who have helped America grow to be recognized with sculptures and statues matching the number of those honoring Confederate soldiers and generals like Robert E. Lee – whose memorial was permanently removed from Virginia in the beginning this week – but it has been a long time since other landmarks like the one in honor of Freeman were created in Vermont, specifically to expand our knowledge of the entire history of this country.

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