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The spelling of ‘Frederick Douglass’ has been fixed in SEPTA’s subway mural

Five days after a historian called out SEPTA for leaving out an 'e' in 'Frederick,' the artist corrected the error in his mural, at the 5th Street/Independence Hall station.

Quietly and without fanfare, Philadelphia artist Tom Judd went to the Fifth Street/Independence Hall SEPTA station on Monday to correct the spelling of Frederick Douglass’ first name on the new subway mural, Portal to Discovery.

Public policy consultant and community historian Faye M. Anderson, director of the public history project All That Philly Jazz, had pointed out last Wednesday on Twitter that the mural had a glaring error, with the second “e” missing from Frederick.

Judd worked on the correction at home over the weekend and affixed it to the mural Monday, replacing the misspelled Fredrick. SEPTA tweeted out a photo of the corrected artwork Tuesday.

“I’m glad the misspelling has been corrected,” Anderson told The Inquirer after seeing the photo in the SEPTA tweet. “But Frederick sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Judd said he thought the correction worked well and didn’t look like a patch but “like a faded old school chalkboard should.”

In an interview last week, Judd said the misspelling had been a mistake. SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch acknowledged the transit agency had no process in place to check works produced for its Art in Transit program for spelling and accuracy. He said it would be more vigilant in the future.

Judd’s Portal to Discovery mural includes portraits of Black and Indigenous leaders alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other white historical figures to tell a more complete story of American history than is sometimes acknowledged. This more diverse perspective was added to the project after Philadelphia Art Commission member Natalie Nixon suggested during an early design review that the artist broaden his scope.

The mural includes a formal portrait of James Forten (1766-1842), a Black man who became a wealthy owner of a sail-making company and was a prominent abolitionist. There are also portraits of Native American leaders Teedyuscung, of the Lenape Nation, and Cornplanter (Gaiänt’wakê or Kaiiontwa’kon in the Seneca language), a Seneca war chief and diplomat who fought in both the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War.

Also here are Frances E.W. Harper, one of the first African American women to be published in the United States; Richard Allen, founder of Mother Bethel AME Church; and abolitionist William Still.