Proposed Douglass Park statue still just one man's dream

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 6, 2009

COLUMBIA — One man's dream to put up a statue in Douglass Park that would honor black leaders largely remains a dream more than a year after he first announced it.

William "Gene" Robertson, a professor emeritus at MU, went public in March 2008 with his plan to build a statue in Douglass Park depicting Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr., according to a previous Missourian report.

But nearly 14 months later, the park remains statue-less, and the process to create such a statue has proved difficult, Robertson said.

"My enthusiasm about the project is still high," Robertson said. "But the movement has been slower than I expected."

Robertson said he had planned to join forces with a group of residents led by First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz, the same group that campaigned last year to relocate Columbia's historic shotgun house in Douglass Park, in the hope of getting more done faster. But that didn't work out, Robertson said.

"We thought we'd be part of this larger group doing some of this cultural stuff," Robertson said. "However, the committee hasn't been moving in terms of the cultural area. They tried to make it a part of something bigger, and the bigger thing didn't move."

Robertson also said he still needs an artist to pick up the project. He said he has been in touch with several sculptors but is waiting for them to produce blueprints.

"I've been in contact with some sculptors who, again, were very enthusiastic about getting involved in the project but slow in terms of putting together renderings of what they wanted to do," Robertson said.

Without something concrete, Robertson said he is wary of approaching the City Council with his idea. "I don't want to go on without something tangible," he said.

Robertson has taken pledges for donations to help fund the project. Douglas Simmons, who has shown interest since the beginning, initially pledged $1,000 in March 2008.

"The project appealed to me when I first heard about it," Simmons said this week. "I made the pledge out of good faith, and it still stands. It's just a matter of when (Gene) gets the project moving."

Despite the slow process, Robertson said he remains enthusiastic about the possibility of putting a statue in the park.

"I have spent the year going to various activities at Douglass Park. The more I experience there, the more I realize something like that is needed," Robertson said. "Getting all my ducks in a row has been the hard part."

Anyone interested in the project can contact Robertson at

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Charles Dudley Jr May 6, 2009 | 12:29 p.m.

Why don't they create a statue honoring the Indians who were obviously here in Missouri first before us white folks and the black folks?

After all Native American Indians Tribes did sacrifice their lives on this land all over this state after the white man killed them and pushed them out.

The statue should be politically correct in it's meaning to this entire state and what the Native American Indians gave up with their own blood that was spilled.

Why don't we put one up in Douglas Park for all of the fallen troops from around this area that have died in past wars too defending our freedom to live in Columbia.

Why not a statue to fallen police officers & fire fighters as we have some of those too from around this area.

Why does it have to be a statue representing black leaders?

(Report Comment)
Claire Hanan May 6, 2009 | 12:39 p.m.

Why shouldn't it represent black leaders?

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote May 6, 2009 | 1:00 p.m.

Mr. Dudley,

It makes sense to me to have a statue of the person after whom the park is named. In addition, Frederick Douglass was an impressive individual who argued eloquently for both equality and a woman's right to vote; the very ideals upon which this nation is founded: "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal"(MLK). He was a powerful force for social justice, I really don't think it should matter what the color of his skin was.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 6, 2009 | 1:26 p.m.

Considering all the crime that goes on in and around Douglass Park, I think both of these men are turning in their graves...Why insult their memories any further?
Clean up the parks reputation first. Statues would currently be narcissistic, at best.
A Year’s Worth of Headlines (2008)
Douglass Park has been in the news this year. A shooting April 16 injured two men. An 18-year-old man and a 25-year-old man sustained gun shot wounds in the leg and ankle, respectively.
A June 12 stabbing sent two men to the hospital. The police found a broken bottle and fresh blood under the larger shelter near Rogers Street. That same night, a fight broke out among minors on the corner of Ninth and Walnut streets. The disturbance eventually grew into a crowd of 100 to 150 people and moved behind Douglass High School before police were able to disperse it. Police heard but could not confirm that someone was carrying a gun. In a rare move, the park was shut down for the rest of the evening.
On June 30, officers patrolling the area approached a vehicle in the small parking lot abutting Rogers Street. The smell of marijuana prompted a search that yielded a few grams of crack cocaine, prescription pills and a .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Besides issuing felony possession charges, the police discovered that three of the four vehicle occupants had outstanding warrants.
Most recently, in the early afternoon of Nov. 4, two men in a black Chevrolet Malibu pulled into Douglass Park’s smaller parking lot. Three independent witnesses say Grady F. Dortch Jr., 28, exited the vehicle and fired a small caliber handgun at Miles Heard, 28. Heard died shortly after arriving at University Hospital from bullet wounds in the right side of his chest and left thigh. Dortch was arrested for first-degree murder and armed criminal action after turning himself in a day later.
With the appearance of crack cocaine. An increase in drug activity and related violence led the police chief at the time, William Dye, to form a task force in the First Ward. “Douglass Park has been categorically grouped with Section 8 housing, poverty, drugs and crime,”
What Thompson knows is that some in the community see a lot of drinking, gambling and loitering at Douglass Park. They also see drug activity. “Visually, that makes the average person not feel comfortable going into the park,” he says. Because people fear confronting suspicious behavior in the park, the community remains silent, and little is accomplished.

(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr May 6, 2009 | 8:04 p.m.

Thank you ray shapiro for pointing out the obvious most others in this city and First Ward seem to love to be in denial over.

I guess they think some statue will keep those bad menz and womenz away by some form of statuesque intimidation.

(Report Comment)

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