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Preparations are underway to install a life-size bronze statue of Frederick Douglass, the former slave, distinguished orator, author and statesman who delivered his last public lecture on West Chester's campus in 1895.
The University community is invited to the dedication ceremony on Oct.1, honoring the African American abolitionist. The ceremony will be held at the Clifford E. and Inez E. DeBaptiste Plaza currently being constructed on the quad near the Philips Memorial building.
The statue and plaza were made possible by an initial $50,000 donation from former West Chester Borough Mayor Dr. Clifford DeBaptiste, kicking off a successful campaign spearheaded by the University's Frederick Douglass Institute to raise funds for the memorial statue.
The first African American mayor of West Chester Borough, the Honorable Clifford DeBaptiste has been active in West Chester and the Chester County community for more than 40 years. Founder, owner, and CEO of DeBaptiste Funeral Homes, Inc., he continues to direct the business with his daughter, Lillian DeBaptiste Lambert. A member of numerous local, county, state and national funeral director associations, he was appointed by the governor to the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors which he chaired for 13 years.
DeBaptiste also has served the University, as a member of the Council of Trustees from 1968 to 1972 and as a board member of the West Chester University Fund. In 1991, he was awarded the President’s Medallion for Service, and in 1999, he received an honorary doctor of public service.
"The importance of this event is that it celebrates WCU's continuing recognition of Frederick Douglass as a critical thinker and role model," notes the Institute's founding director and retired English professor James Trotman.
"A statue of the younger Douglass aims to stimulate and encourage students to do more with their lives and to be more than they are," says Trotman. "It is not an end in our study of the great abolitionist; it is part of the process of using a national and global icon."
Richard Blake, a member of the University's art department since 1975, was commissioned to create the lifelike figure. Often designed with an evocative presence, Blake's work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad. His commissioned work is on display at the Milton and Catherine Hershey Memorial Sculpture in Hershey, Pa., and with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument at the Peace Gardens of the University of California, Fresno, Cal.
West Chester was the first university among the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities to establish a Frederick Douglass Institute.