Monument of William Seward and Harriet Tubman set to be erected

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Kwesi Blankson l Concordiensis
Kwesi Blankson l Concordiensis

For the past 19 years, Emeritus Professor Frank Wicks has pursued a statue of Union alumnus William Seward, class of 1820. It has been decided that a statue of Harriet Tubman and William H. Seward, designed by Emeritus Professor at Keuka College and sculptor Dexter Benedict, will be placed either on or off campus. The final decision of placement will be made within the next month, while the construction takes six months. Wicks expects that the monument will be of merit to receive national attention.

The statue will be titled “William H. Seward and Harriet Tubman: Leaders For Freedom and Justice.” The statue will be of Seward and Tubman standing side by side. Seward is holding a cane to display a gentleman’s status, whilst Tubman holds a shepherd’s staff. According to Wicks, the presence of the staff infers the ancient connotation of leadership. Placement of the statue has yet to be decided.

Ideally, Wicks proposes the monument be placed on the college’s campus, either in front of the patio behind Reamer Campus Center or next to the monument of Chester Arthur in front of Jackson Gardens.

If the statue is not approved by the college’s Board of Trustees in the next month, it will be placed off campus in either Schenectady or Albany. The project has been brought to reality through the leadership of Wicks, in collaboration with a team consisting of Wicks, Emeritus Biology Professor Carl George, Emeritus Biology Professor Twitty Styles, resident Schenectady historian Marsha Mortimore and local business owner Brian Merriam. “Carl George and Twitty Styles have 100 years of combined service to Union, including the founding of UNITAS,” comments Wicks. Professor Wicks personally assured the cost, which is quoted at $62,000.

Wicks initially undertook this project because Seward is a “very important Union alum,” and one whose accomplishments should be commemorated on campus. Despite receiving positive reinforcement from President Stephen Ainlay and President Emeritus Roger Hull in 1998, the idea of a monument would not come to fruition until 2017.

Duncan Crary ’00 invested interest in the monument effort, and raised money to place a boulder from Seward Highway in Alaska on the annex of Seward Street and Nott Street in 2005. The boulder, which was installed with inscriptions and lighted, became a class present to the college during the class of 2000’s fifth anniversary.

Wicks commented that his pursuit of a Seward monument in statue form was further incited by author and William H. Seward biographer Walter Stahr’s 2013 Founder’s Day commencement speech. However, the process to get a monument, for which Wicks emphasized there is “no formal protocol,” was still found by Wicks to be unattainable at the time of Stahr’s speech. “For a statue, you need both a sculptor and a foundry,” Wick explains his largest obstacles in developing a sculptured Seward monument. “It’s like a new building.”

In 2015, Brian Merriam, “Schenectady’s most outstanding citizen” according to Wick in reference to his involvement in Schenectady heritage and community affairs, approached Wicks with the idea of establishing a Steinmetz and Thomas Edison monument. Merriam contracted Dexter Benedict to make the Steinmetz and Edison monument a reality. Benedict is a sculptor as well as the operator of his own foundry, the “Fireworks Foundry,” in Penn Yan. “It was one-stop shopping,” comments Wicks.

On May 22, 2015, the Edison and Steinmetz monument in Schenectady was established. Brian Merriam offered to help Wicks with the Seward statue, in turn for Wicks’ support for the Edison and Steinmetz statue. Professor Wicks began to conceptualize that a two-person statue would “enhance the interest and provide a message.” Wicks explains his thought process: “The prolific inventor Edison and the engineer Steinmetz worked together and separately toward the common goal of providing marvels of electricity to all of humanity. This led to the idea of combining William Seward and Harriet Tubman on statue. It portrays a diversity of individuals pursuing the common cause of the abolition of slavery.”

The connection between Seward and Tubman was one Wicks describes as unlikely, but deep and time-enduring. “William Seward was well educated and lived in luxury. He was mentored by Union President Eliphalet Nott, elected New York State governor and United States senator.” Wicks continued, “Seward was also a Civil Rights lawyer, a founder of the anti-slavery Republican Party, a leading candidate for president, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, Civil War confidant who helped preserve the Union, purchaser of Alaska, visionary for global commerce, world traveler and a prolific writer. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery, and led many others to freedom as a conductor of the Underground Railroad.”

“She was a nurse, scouted and led slave freeing missions during the Civil War and served as a leader for human rights and women’s suffrage over the remainder of her long life. She will soon be recognized with her image on the $20 bill, and most recently with a proposed statue in the United States Capital,” says Wicks. Both Seward and Tubman are buried in Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn. In a proposal written to Chief of Staff Robert D. Kelly on Nov. 9 by Wicks and his associates potentially controversial factors of the monument were addressed. These factors included questions such as why the monument is relevant to Union and appropriation of culture. These issues have been addressed, and the process has continued forward to its final stages. Wicks concludes: “The statue will be unique and potentially valuable. It will be a work of art and message from the past, for present and future generations.”

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