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.
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.”
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.
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.
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, she’s been The Skanner News’ Seattle photographer for 25 years. Her images have appeared in the University of Washington’s 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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