Freeman was born and raised in Rutland in 1826 before enrolling at Middlebury in 1845. He was the first self-identifying African American student to matriculate at the College. He would go on to become a professor and the first African American president of a college or university in the United States, specifically Allegheny Institute (later Avery College) in Pittsburgh, PA, where he served until 1862.

He then accepted a faculty position at Liberia College, in Monrovia, Liberia, as a Professor of Mathematics until he was appointed President of the institution in 1868. He held this position for a brief time, as his health deteriorated. Freeman passed on May 26, 1889 in Monrovia.

For more on the sculpture and its impact in Vermont, see the Associated Press story on its unveiling. For a detailed history of Martin Henry Freeman’s life, please consult Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of History William Hart’s thorough exploration.