The Legacy of the Soul Pole: Converge Media's New Film About the Library's Historic Artwork
release date: 06/14/2022
The Soul Pole has stood tall outside The Seattle Public Library’s Douglass-Truth Branch for almost 50 years. Now, the 21-foot tall artwork – which the Black Heritage Society of Washington State has called a “beacon of Black pride” in the Central District – is starring in a short documentary produced by Seattle’s Converge Media.
In the 10-minute film titled “The Legacy of the Soul Pole,” Converge Media, a leading producer of culturally relevant content in Seattle and across the Pacific Northwest, follows the Soul Pole over a one-year period starting in April 2021. At that time, the artwork was deinstalled from its historic spot at 23rd and East Yesler Way in Seattle’s Central District, because of concerns over deterioration. It was reinstalled in April 2022 after successfully undergoing conservation work.
“For us at Converge Media, documenting the story of the Soul Pole was a labor of love,” said Omari Salisbury, founder of Converge Media. “Converge Media was born in the Central District of Seattle and many of us on staff including myself grew up going to Douglass-Truth as children and we remember how mighty the Soul Pole was and the story it represents: To be front and center through this amazing process to yes, restore the Pole, but more than that, to reaffirm that the Central District is still the cultural and historical epicenter for Black culture in the City of Seattle and beyond. We want people to know that this film was not commissioned by The Seattle Public Library or any other funding source. We were able to tell this very important Black history story with assistance from the generous supporters of Converge Media, who believe in the value of community storytelling and uplifting of the Black experience in Seattle and to them I say thank you and we offer you the ‘Legacy of the Soul Pole.’"
“We are grateful to Converge for creating an extraordinary film that sheds light on the Soul Pole’s past, present and future, and to the Black Heritage Society for their support in the research and preservation of these stories,” said Tom Fay, Chief Librarian of The Seattle Public Library.
“Everyone who has an interest in the untold stories of Seattle should watch this film, and then go visit the Soul Pole at the Douglass-Truth Branch, where it stands tall once again.”
“The Soul Pole represents the tenacity and significance of the African-American footprint in the Central District. This is a beacon on this corner and I’m so proud to see it back,” said Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, at the artwork’s reinstallation on April 5, 2022, a moving moment that is included in the film. “I’m kind of fighting back the tears.”
The film spotlights the Black Heritage Society’s collaboration with the Library to uncover the Soul Pole’s history, a process that is ongoing. It shares the story of artist and activist Raqib Mu’ied (formerly Gregory X), who led the Soul Pole project as art director for the Seattle Rotary Boys Club in the late 1960s, through interviews with Raqib’s son, poet and performance artist Elijah Mu’ied.
Raqib Mu’ied worked with youth at the Rotary Boys Club to carve a donated telephone pole into a design of faces and figures that represents 400 years of African American history.
In the film, Elijah Mu’ied, speaks eloquently about his father’s intention with the Soul Pole.
“The Soul Pole represents the advent of African American’s history coming to America, starting from the bottom to the top, when they got us in the homeland, brought us to America to enslave us, up to freedom, which is the top piece,” said Mu’ied. “Raqib Mu’ied was an activist, trained all of his children in that formula of searching for freedom. … I would say that the Soul Pole embodies his activism, from the ground up.”
The film also showed the work to conserve the Soul Pole through interviews with Kate Dawson of Artech Fine Art Services, which managed the conservation project, and conservator Corine Landrieu. Dawson and Landrieu spoke about the process to assess the damage to the Pole and create a conservation plan that would preserve the artwork and allow it to be reinstalled at its original location.
“We knew that would be the most important thing, that’s what success would like,” said Dawson in the film.
The film shows Landrieu doing hands-on conservation work on the Soul Pole at Artech’s facility, including repairing rot and cracks with epoxy fills, applying wood preservative, and painting.
“There is a fine line between conservation and restoration,” said Landrieu. “If a piece is to be put indoors it just needs to be preserved and stabilized in its current state. If it’s going to be outdoors, you have to do a more involved intervention.”
Converge’s Soul Pole film ends with footage – some aerial – of the Soul Pole being reinstalled on April 5, 2022, a sunny, blue-sky day that culminated in a moving ceremony attended by community members and family members of those originally involved in the project.
“He carved the top piece, the head,” Elijah Mu’ied said of his father Raqib Mu’ied at the reinstallation, “which represents African-American awakening, our freedom, which many of us know we’re still working on to this day.”
The Library will continue to work with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State to gather and archive the history of the Soul Pole and the Douglass-Truth Branch.
HISTORIC SEATLE AWARD
On May 31, 2022, Historic Seattle announced that the Soul Pole won its 2022 “Preserving Neighborhood Character” Award. This award will be presented at Historic Seattle’s Preservation Celebration benefit on Wednesday, September 21, at Washington Hall. Find out more at historicseattle.org.
NEW SOUL POLE PLAQUE
In late May 2022, a new plaque was placed at the Soul Pole’s base to honor the artwork’s history and the conservation process. The plaque names Rotary Boys Club art director Raqib Mu’ied; the five youth – Brenda Davis, Larry Gordon, Gregory Jackson, Cindy Jones and Gaylord Young – who were the primary artists; and Wilson Gulley, Sr., director of the Rotary Boys Club from 1968-1971, who worked with Raqib Mu’ied to conceive of the Soul Pole project, and shaped many other programs for Central District youth.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE SOUL POLE AND THE DOUGLASS-TRUTH BRANCH
The Soul Pole was gifted to the Library in 1972 and installed outside the Yesler Branch Library on April 24, 1973, two years before it was renamed the Douglass-Truth Branch in honor of abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Information on the project can be found at www.spl.org/SoulPole.
The Douglass-Truth Branch also has a large collection of African-American literature and history, established in 1965 through a donation by the local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, a national service organization founded by African-American college women. Over 10,000 items are featured, and some items in the collection have been digitized as the Black Culture and History Collection.