In a July message to the Penn community from President Amy Gutmann, Provost Wendell Pritchett Gr’97, and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli W’85, the University announced plans to remove the statue of George Whitefield, which was erected in the Quadrangle in the early 20th century.
A well-known Evangelical preacher in the 1700s whose church meeting house at Fourth and Arch Streets was purchased by Benjamin Franklin to house the Academy of Philadelphia (an early predecessor to Penn), Whitefield led a successful campaign to allow slavery in Georgia, which was “undeniably one of Whitefield’s principal legacies,” the note read. “Honoring him with a statue on our campus is inconsistent with our University’s core values, which guide us in becoming an ever more welcoming community that celebrates inclusion and diversity.”
A reckoning over statues of historical figures who supported slavery was reignited during many of this summer’s protests for racial equality. Two years ago, members of the University community involved in the Penn & Slavery Project discovered that at least 75 early University trustees owned at least one enslaved person, including Penn’s first provost, William Smith [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec 2018].
“It is important that we fully understand how the institution of slavery—a profoundly shameful and deeply tragic part of American history—affected Penn in its early years and that we reflect as a university about the current meaning of this history,” the notice continued. “Penn recognizes that some of its trustees, including our founder Benjamin Franklin, had owned enslaved persons. Importantly, Franklin changed course in his life and went on to become a leading abolitionist.”
To further grapple with the issue, the University announced the formation of a Campus Iconography Group to “advise us on further steps to ensure that the placement and presence of statues and other prominent iconography better reflects our achievements and aspirations to increase the diversity of the Penn community.” The group will be cochaired by Joann Mitchell, senior vice president for institutional affairs and chief diversity officer, and Fritz Steiner GRP’77 GFA’86 Gr’86, dean of the Weitzman School of Design.