Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1958: The Spirit of Detroit statue is formally dedicated

By: - September 23, 2021 3:08 am

Spirit of Detroit | Susan J. Demas

On Sept. 23, 1958, the Spirit of Detroit was formally dedicated.

In 1955, visual artist Marshall Fredericks was commissioned by the Detroit-Wayne Joint Building Authority to create a sculpture for the city to represent hope, progress and the “spirit of man.”

The bronze was cast in Oslo, Norway, and covered with acid to oxidize the metal, giving it a green hue. When work was complete, the statue was wrapped in protective fabric, surrounded by a supportive framework and loaded face down onto a German freighter for its 3,385-mile journey from Oslo to Detroit.

The Spirit of Detroit cost $58,000 to design and erect. The a 26-foot sculpture is located at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. The statue’s left hand grips a gilded sphere emanating rays that symbolizes divinity, while its right hand holds a family, which symbolizes all human relationships. 

The Spirit of Detroit now dons a face mask, April 6, 2020 | Ken Coleman

Fredericks sought a consensus from representatives of several different religious groups when designing the divine aspect of the work, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

On the wall behind the sculpture the inscription from the Holy Bible’s 2 Corinthians 3:17 reads: “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” along with the seals of both the city of Detroit and Wayne County. The inscribed plaque in front of the statue reads: “The artist expresses the concept that God, through the spirit of man, is manifested in the family, the noblest human relationship.”

The Spirit of Detroit attracts visitors from across the state and the world. When the Detroit Red Wings hockey team won the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup championship in 1997, the Spirit of Detroit donned the team jersey in celebration. 

During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a mask was placed on the statue to promote the city of Detroit’s efforts to reduce coronavirus spread. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.