On Tuesday morning, April 5, a small crowd of neighbors, Library staff and journalists gathered outside the Douglass-Truth Branch to see a very welcome event: A forklift lowering the carefully wrapped 21-foot tall Soul Pole artwork into its base on the lawn of the Library.
The Soul Pole has stood tall in that base since 1973, minus the last year, when it was temporarily taken down for conservation work. It was returning home.
By 1 p.m., the workers from Artech Fine Art Services finished unwrapping the Soul Pole and bolting it into its base.
At 2 p.m., under mostly blue skies, the Library hosted a short program to honor the Soul Pole’s history and conservation work, featuring speakers with deep connections to the Central District community and the history and significance of the Soul Pole.
Watch the whole program below or at SeattleChannel.org.
Chief Librarian Tom Fay presented welcoming remarks, noting how grateful the Library was to see the Soul Pole standing tall again at 23rd and Yesler.
He described the Library’s work with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State to uncover more about the artwork’s history.
“The Library emerged from this process with a clearer understanding and a deeper appreciation of its significance,” he said.
Adiam Emery, the City of Seattle’s Chief Equity Officer, spoke on behalf of Mayor Harrell. She mentioned the mayor’s own connections to the Library and to the Rotary Boys Club, which led the creation of the Pole in the late 1960s and eventually gifted it to the Library. Emery also talked about how art like the Soul Pole strengthens and builds community.
Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, spoke of the importance of the Soul Pole to the community.
“The Soul Pole represents the tenacity and significance of the African American footprint in the Central District,” she said. “This is a beacon on this corner. And I’m so proud today to see it back.”
Elijah Mu’ied, a poet and performance artist. spoke next. Elijah is the oldest son of Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X), who was art director for the Seattle Rotary Boys Club. Raqib worked with youth at the Rotary Boys Club to carve a donated telephone pole into a design that represents 400 years of African American history.
“I was three years old at the creation of the Sole Pole in 1969, but throughout the years, it was a source of pride for me and my family,” said Mu’ied. “For my father, the Sole Pole was an artistic representation of his activism and pursuit of human equality, depicting the struggle, growth and awakening of African-American people.”
Five high school students – Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones and Gaylord Young – were the primary artists, along with Raqib Mu’ied. But other Rotary Club youth worked on the Pole, as Debra Gulley-Collins, RN, shared as the program’s next speaker.
Debra Gulley-Collins is the daughter of Wilson Gulley, Sr., who was executive director of the Rotary Boys Club from 1968-1971 and visionary for Rotary Boys Club programs.
“We spent many hours in the Rotary Club working on the Sole Pole – chiseling, using a blow torch to burn the wood and sanding it until it was smooth – and anybody who worked on the sculpture would also receive a history lesson from Greg [X],” she recalled at the event. “My dad’s vision for the Rotary Club was as a safe, holistic place for youth to learn and grow.”
Other family members of Wilson Gulley, Sr. and Raqib Mu’ied also attended the event, as well as a granddaughter of Brenda Davis, one of the sculptors; and leaders from organizations such as the Seattle Boys and Girls Club, Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
In his final remarks, Chief Librarian Fay praised the conservation project. “Artech and Landrieu Conservation did exceptional work in conserving the Soul Pole in a way that would protect and stabilize it for many more years to come.”
The Library will add a plaque to display with the original plaque at the Soul Pole’s base to share information about the conservation and honor the artwork’s history.
Find out more about the project at www.spl.org/SoulPole.