Photo depicting a group of Black-presenting individuals gathered together for a picture in front of the Soul Pole.

Central District’s Soul Pole Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary This Saturday

by Amanda Ong

This Saturday, April 29, The Seattle Public Library will host “Preserving Neighborhood Character: The Soul Pole at 50 Years” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Douglass-Truth Branch in the Central District. The event commemorates the 50th anniversary of the historic Soul Pole’s installation at the branch on April 24, 1973. 

The Soul Pole was carved from a telephone pole by young members of the Rotary Boys Club in 1969 to represent 400 years of African American history and injustice. The five teen artists from the Rotary Boys Club were Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones, and Gaylord Young. They were led by Seattle Rotary Boys Club art director, Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X). The Rotary Club then gave the Soul Pole to the Library, which installed it on the lawn of the Douglass-Truth Branch.

The Soul Pole by the Douglass Truth Branch in 2022, after the yearlong conservation project and reinstallation. (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Public Library.)

“I really envision this event as a community connection point for learning and coming together to share stories about the Soul Pole and the historic neighborhood,” Taylor Brooks, the African American collection and community engagement librarian at the Douglass-Truth Branch, told the South Seattle Emerald.  

The event will also commemorate the recent restoration of the Soul Pole and that it was awarded the 2022 Preserving Neighborhood Character Award last year by Historic Seattle for preserving neighborhood character, which Brooks said was largely due to the advocacy of organizations like The Black Heritage Society and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Delta Upsilon Omega chapter.

The free indoor and outdoor event will feature speakers including Elijah Mu’ied, son of Raqib Mu’ied, the original artist and architect of the pole, as well as historical context from the president of The Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Stephanie Johnson Toliver, and Historic Seattle’s director of community engagement, Taelore Rhoden. There will also be stories from the chief librarian of The Seattle Public Library, Tom Fay, and a viewing of Converge Media’s Legacy of the Soul Pole documentary.

“People should look forward to coming together in remembrance and celebration of the Soul Pole,” Brooks said. “[And] the place that Douglass-Truth captures in the neighborhood being a historic site where the African American collection was first started. This event is all about community connection and remembrance.”

Elijah Mu’ied (right) and Stephanie Johnson-Toliver (left), president of the Black Heritage Society, pose in front of a historic photo of Elijah’s father, Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X) on the day the Soul Pole was installed on April 24,1973. (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Public Library.)

Community members will also be able to speak about their memories of the Soul Pole, and its relevance as a symbol of pride for the Black community of the Central District. Programming will also include information about future Library programs and events to amplify the visibility of the Library’s large collections of African American literature and history.

“This event brings an opportunity to bring so many organizations and people from the community together,” Brooks said. “The library is a connector and [has a] unique ability to bring people from all walks of life in the same space.”

Attend “Preserving Neighborhood Character: The Soul Pole at 50 Years” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on April 29 at the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library, at 2300 E. Yesler Way.

Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article stated that royal alley-barnes would be attending the “Preserving Neighborhood Character: The Soul Pole at 50 Years” event. This article was updated to correct that alley-barnes will not be attending due to a prior commitment.

Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.

📸 Featured Image: Attendees and speakers at the Soul Pole reinstallation event following its restoration in 2022. (Photo courtesy of The Seattle Public Library.)

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