MLK bust represents a commitment to diversity

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By: Matt Wegh, Managing Editor

As part of Illinois Wesleyan University’s celebration of Black History Month, the Ames Library unveiled a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King and a copy of a first edition of A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade by abolitionist William Wilberforce. The dedication took place on Wednesday, Feb.14, the anniversary of the first time Dr. King came to Illinois Wesleyan to speak. Dr. King visited IWU two times to speak, the first being on Feb. 14, 1961, the second coming five years later on Feb. 10, 1966.

The statue of Dr. King, donated by sculptors Anna Koh and Jeffery Varilla, will remain in the rotunda of Ames permanently. The Varillas, parents of senior IWU finance major Adam Varilla, have been working on public monuments for over 30 years. Some of their past sculptures are displayed at Soldier Field and in the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. The couple also has two other sculptures of Dr. King, one on the campus of University of Texas, Austin, and the other in Roanoke, Virginia. The bust created for Illinois Wesleyan is based off of their 1999 bronze statue donated to UT-Austin.

“It will be a visible and constant reminder to everyone who walks past … just how strong the university’s commitment to diversity and social justice really is,” Illinois Wesleyan President Eric Jensen said.
Not only the administration but the students of IWU were also grateful to receive the statue.
“I think having the statue on display is awesome,” said freshman Dylan Mikaili. “It inspires the student body to stand up for what we believe, even when things seem hopeless.”

Though Dr. King’s name has more recognition, the book donated alongside the sculpture carries similar historical significance.
A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade by Wilberforce, purchased at a discount from local non-for-profit Books to Benefit, will remain as part of the library’s Tate Archives and Special Collections.
Wilberforce, a British politician and philanthropist, was one of the primary leaders of the anti-slavery movement in Great Britain. He also rallied for the freedom of British colonies like Sierra Leone and India and even created the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The letter presented at Ames was written by Wilberforce in 1807 in opposition to the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Shortly after this letter was written, British Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act of 1807, banning the slave trade, although not slavery itself.
Wilberforce’s pivotal letter was displayed alongside other, similar texts from Illinois Wesleyan’s archives.
These texts included a first edition copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and writings by prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass and father of Methodism and the Wesleyan tradition, John Wesley Powell.

After the display, both items were put in their permanent locations within the library.
Students are free to see the sculpture during the Ames Library’s open hours, and the book is available on the fourth floor of Ames in the Tate Archives from 9-12 and 1-4 on Monday-Friday.