TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– When Justin Wittmer heard of Frederick Douglass’ connection to Terre Haute, he knew he wanted to do something.
“I knew who Frederick Douglass was, I knew a little bit about his history, I had no idea the connections he had to The Terre Haute community specifically,” he said.
Wittmer, the chapter president for the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at Indiana State, worked alongside local historian Dr. Crystal Reynolds to create “the Frederick Douglass History Tour,” which went around the downtown area on Tuesday.
Participants started at the Indiana State library to see a rare copy of Douglass’ autobiography, and finished the day at the Vigo County Historical Museum to see an authentic signature from one of Douglass’ many visits to the city. Reynolds said she thought it was a story that deserved more attention.
“It’s important that people know this history, because as I’ve said many times, Black history is everybody’s history. It’s all of our history. And we need to know about amazing people in our history, and the fact that Terre Haute was so welcoming,” she said.
The second stop on the tour was outside the Hilton Garden Inn– which used to be where the Terre Haute House was located. Reynolds discovered Douglass was the man who desegregated that hotel over 150 years ago.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett met with the group at that spot to discuss a memorial for Douglass that will go right outside the hotel. Wittmer said the fraternity is leading the fundraising for that project.
“We’re going to be advertising, fundraising, reaching out to local community partners, looking to raise as much money as we can, as well as working with the Mayor’s Office to put those funds together and make this sculpture a reality,” he said.
Wittmer said they were also in the process of applying for a grant to help cover the projected $15,000 cost for the project, and there was currently no timetable for construction. He said he thinks the memorial will go a long way in raising awareness of the connection between Terre Haute and the famous abolitionist.
“I had no clue he visited here several times, desegregated the Terre Haute House, that history is alive and real in our own community,” he said. “Dr. Reynolds’ efforts have been incredible revealing and preserving that history, and we want to continue to educate it.”
Reynolds said she hopes the tour can will propel others to look into the history of their communities.
“I encourage other people to go out and learn about Terre Haute,” she said. “Go to your libraries, internet is amazing right now, go to the special collections and learn about the hidden figures in this great Terre Haute.”