Save Penn's George Whitefield Statue

Save Penn's George Whitefield Statue

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Ben Zeisloft started this petition to University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees

On Thursday, July 2, the University of Pennsylvania announced plans to remove its statue of George Whitefield, an influential eighteenth-century evangelical minister. In an email, the University said that there is "absolutely no justification" for honoring Whitefield's legacy with a statue.

According to the Christian History Institute, no Christian denomination in the colonies had declared slavery to be a sin during Whitefield's lifetime. With this context in mind, there are many aspects of Whitefield's legacy that deserve recognition:

  • Whitefield purchased 5,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania for the education of slaves and started an orphanage in Georgia.
  • Whitefield condemned slaveholders for their poor treatment of slaves, and he advocated for their education in Christianity: “Their consciences are awake, and consequently prepared in good measure for hearing the gospel.”
  • Whitefield made sure to address African-Americans when he preached to mixed crowds, chastising slaveholders for not teaching their slaves about Christ.
  • Whitefield was extremely popular among slaves, who would often try to finish their work early in order to attend his preaching.
  • Whitefield was called a "happy saint" and glowingly eulogized by Phillis Wheatley, a lauded African-American author and former slave.

Remembering historical figures can be a difficult enterprise. No historical figure has a clean slate. It is important to recognize historical figures in the context of their times, balancing recollection of their positive influences with honest discussion of their failures. 

While support for the institution of slavery is inexcusable, the University of Pennsylvania should reconsider the removal of George Whitefield's statue. Though a slaveowner, Whitefield was ahead of his time in the way that he treated slaves and upheld their humanity. For this reason, as well as his massive influence on early American history — including the founding of Penn — and his impressive charitable works, Whitefield deserves to be remembered.

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