Douglass-Truth Library Resurrects Its Soul Pole

by Susan Fried

The Soul Pole, a piece of artwork donated to the Douglass-Truth Branch of the Seattle Public Library (SPL) by the Rotary Boys Club in 1972, was reinstalled at the library on April 5 after being removed for restoration in 2021.

Stephanie Johnson-Tolliver (right, foreground), President of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State speaks during a short program celebrating the return of the Sole Pole to its original location outside the Douglass-Truth Library on April 5th. The pole had been gone for a year so it could be refurbished and conserved. (Photo: Susan Fried)

The Soul Pole was conceived by Seattle Rotary Boys Club Director Wilson Gulley, Sr. and Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X), the club’s art director. It was crafted by youth at the club out of a 21-foot telephone pole in 1969 as part of a summer arts festival. The Yesler library was later renamed the Douglass-Truth Branch.

A brief article that appeared in the February 14, 1971, Seattle Post Intelligencer reads: “The 20 feet of carved faces and figures resembles a totem pole but to the gang at the Rotary Boys Club, 201 19th Ave., It’s got a different name: Soul Pole.”  

Carl Melvin poses in front of the newly reinstalled Soul Pole outside the Douglass-Truth Library. The pole which was created by youth from the Seattle Rotary Boys Club in 1969 has stood at the spot by the library for almost 50 years. It was removed in 2021 to be repaired and conserved. A small ceremony was held on April 5, 2022 to celebrate the return of the pole to its historic spot. The pole which was carved from a former telephone pole represents 400 years of African American history. (Photo: Susan Fried) 

The Soul Pole remained at the corner of 23rd and Yesler until it was removed in 2021 to be refurbished and conserved. Several dozen people gathered to celebrate its reinstallation, including the families of Gulley, Sr. and Mu’ied. 

Debra Gulley-Collins, Gulley’s daughter, and  Elijah Mu’ied, Mu’ied’s son, spoke at the event.

The original plaque on the base of the Sole Pole shows the name of the piece “The First 400 Years” and lists the name of the Rotary Club’s art director Gregory X (Raqib Mu’ied) and 5 youth who were involved in the project Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones and Gaylord Young. It also says it was created in 1969 for the Model Cities Summer Arts Festival and that it depicts 400 years of the Black Man in America. An additional plaque will be added by the library in the future to share more information about the history and conservation of the artwork. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Elijah Mu’ied said that the pole was a source of pride for his family.

“The Soul Pole, to me, was presented as an artistic representation of his activism and mission in the pursuit of human equality for our people,” Elijah Mu’ied said. 

He recalled his father sharing his memories of the Boys Club and his efforts to be not only an artistic guide, but a life teacher and a buffer between young men and women and the outside world. 

“I think the Boys Club was his first significant role as an activist and an excellent way to reach the young minds needing to be prepared to succeed in the future,” Mu’ied said.

A small audience gathers  in front of the Douglas-Truth Library on April 5, 2022 to celebrate the return of the Soul Pole, a tall wooden sculpture resembling a totem pole which has stood outside the library for almost 50 years. It was uninstalled for restoration and preservation in April 2021. The newly restored Soul Pole will celebrate 50 years in front of Douglas Truth library on April 24, 2023. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Mu’ied said his father had carved the top piece,  the head which represents African American awakening and freedom. 

“We’re still working on that to this day,” he said.

Susan Fried is a 40-year veteran photographer. Her early career included weddings, portraits, and commercial work — plus, shes been The Skanner News’ Seattle photographer for 25 years. Her images have appeared in the University of Washingtons The Daily, The Seattle Globalist, Crosscut, and many more. She’s been an Emerald contributor since 2015. Follow her on Instagram @fried.susan.

Featured image: The “Soul Pole”, was reinstalled in its original spot in front of the Douglass Truth Library on Tuesday April 5th. The pole was originally carved from an old telephone pole in 1969 and was placed at the corner of 23rd and Yesler in front of the library almost 50 years ago in April of 1973. It was briefly removed for badly needed restoration and conservation in April 2021. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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