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The Claude Pepper Center
by Shannon Calloway

claude pepper center
A surprising number of FSU students have never stepped foot inside Strozier Library.  Does it come as a surprise, then, that so few know there is a fully- functioning museum on campus?  The Claude Pepper Center is a building familiar to most students, at least in name, but having little to no impact on their daily lives.  The mysterious building with its stained-glass windows, perched behind a brooding, bronze statue of some old white guy (an 8’2” likeness of Pepper himself) is, in actuality, a museum, archive, and library.  All three are entirely dedicated to preserving the legacy left behind by the late Claude Pepper.

After serving 40 years in Congress, Pepper is most famous for sponsoring lend-lease during World War II and as a champion for the elderly.  From his rural beginnings in Dudleyville, Alabama and beyond an education at Harvard Law, Claude Pepper fought in the US Senate from 1936-1951 and House of Representatives from 1963-1989 for the rights of the American people, regardless of race or social status. (1)  That is his legacy, and when the Claude Pepper Foundation collaborated with FSU to create this memorial, that is what they intended to preserve. (2)

The building itself is a simple brick structure.  Inside is a museum about Pepper’s life and political career, the complete Library and Archives which Pepper donated to the Foundation; the Broad Auditorium, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and various offices and conference rooms.  The entrance to the building is a striking and vibrant stained glass window created by glass artist Nancy O’Neil.  The window is an assortment of color and media presentations; with photos, excerpts from speeches and documents, and other related memorabilia.  It is organized into four large panels, each centered on a different issue that was of high importance to Pepper: the Elderly, laborer’s rights, civil rights, and health care.  Across the top o the door are four panels each with a picture of Pepper during a different stage of his life.

pepper center

pepper statue Greeting visitors as they approach the center is the aforementioned bronze statue of Claude Pepper.  It was commissioned in part by the Claude Pepper Foundation, and also funded by the private investment of the late Margaret Mosher of California. (3)  The likeness was sculpted by Neil Estern who also sculpted the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Estern was a fitting choice as the sculptor for that reason.  Not only was Pepper a friend of Roosevelt and a strong supporter of the New Deal, but he pushed Congress to fund the construction of the FDR memorial(4).  The Pepper statue was unveiled on November 14, 2003 in a ceremony with both Senator Bill Nelson and FSU President T.K. Wetherell present.
pepper statue
The statue bears a striking resemblance to the late senator; captured in the midst of what seems to be a passionate address.  Estern says about his sculpture, “I want those who knew him personally as well as those who know him only by reputation to immediately recognize the man for who he was and what he stood for.(5)”  Estern’s choice to depict Pepper in such a state is a fitting visual display of Claude Pepper’s legacy.  Although his congressional record is not perfect, Claude Pepper supported the rights of the American people through his service in the Federal and State government.  Often accused of being “liberal” and “radical”, and even accused of communism in the 1950s, Pepper’s legislation and speeches (like the one he is presumably giving in this statue) advocated the equal rights of every American. (6) As the monument is meant to promote a positive image of Claude Pepper as champion of the average American, the statue is a fitting and appropriate rendition.

(1) Claude Denson Pepper. Pepper, Eyewitness to a Century. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987.
(2)“Unveiling of the Claude Pepper Statue”.  Program from statue dedication.  November 14, 2003
(3)“Pepper Statue Unveiled”, available on the web at www.claudepepperfoundation.org/new.cfm.
(4) “Pepper Statue Unveiled”
(5) “Unveiling of the Claude Pepper Statue”
(6) Pepper

Photographs by Shannon Calloway

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