Dignitaries, business leaders and community members gathered Thursday at Hochstein School of Music and Dance to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth. It was the first event in a yearlong series to commemorate the 19th-century African-American abolitionist’s legacy.
Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass is a public art project, exhibition and community-wide reflection that is a partnership between lead organizers Rochester Community Media Center and Rochester Contemporary Art Center, or RoCo, in collaboration with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and a range of community partners who have come together to form the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee.
Wardell Lewis ushered in Thursday’s event by playing a long-lost piece on the piano, titled “His Name Shall Live Forever,” followed by an excerpt from an 1857 Douglass speech, performed by North Star Players’ David Shakes.
A video greeting from Kenneth Morris Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Douglass and founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, thanked the individuals and organizations involved in the yearlong celebration.
“As we near Frederick Douglass’ bicentennial celebration in 2018, it is important for residents to know that there was no other city that resonated in the life of my great-great-great grandfather more than Rochester, N.Y.,” Morris said.
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo was on hand to announce the movement of the Douglass monument that currently sits in Highland Park to a move publicly accessible location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive this spring.
“The Sidney Edwards’ statue of Frederick Douglass is significant both as historic and cultural touchstones, and as a celebrated work of art,” said Carvin Eison, project director and general manager of RCTV. “But perhaps more importantly, at a time when statues in many parts of our country are provoking angry divides and tearing communities apart, this statue is a uniting force for good—as Douglass was for our nation—bringing us together in a common purpose.”
The 8-foot-tall bronze monument was installed in 1899 and is the first civic monument in the country to honor an African-American man.
Dinolfo and Rochester’s Deputy Mayor Cedric Alexander proclaimed 2018 the “Year of Frederick Douglass.” Later in the program a surprise announcement came from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, proclaiming February as Frederick Douglass month.
Feb. 2 through March 18, RoCo will present a curated exhibit, “No Soil Better: Art & the Living Legacy of Frederick Douglass,” featuring new works by nine artists that reflect on Douglass’ legacy. A public Artist Talk is scheduled for Feb. 3, and RoCo will host facilitated discussions on Feb. 8 and 15 to bring Douglass’ work and philosophy into the public sphere through a contemporary lens, posing the question “What would Douglass do?”
“The Sidney Edwards monument gives form to this incredible man and is a wonderful work of art,” said Bleu Cease, RoCo executive director. “In recognition of Douglass’ bicentennial, we’re commissioning works by nine contemporary artists from across the region and New York City to create works for the 21st century inspired by Douglass—inspired by his legacy—and really taking a critical look at how we as a city, and perhaps more broadly as a nation, look at and remember this remarkable man and his influence.”
The third component of the project is the convening of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee. Under the leadership of Rochester Community Media Center and RoCo, and in collaboration with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee is a group whose members have a wide range of missions and interests but are all dedicated to honoring the Douglass legacy throughout 2018.
David “Sankofa” Anderson, a longtime storyteller and contributor to African-American heritage, will serve as chair emeritus of the committee.
“Monroe County is proud to be a sitting member and strong supporter of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee,” Dinolfo said. “As a fitting tribute to Rochester’s legendary civil rights trailblazer, we look forward to joining together with residents and families all across our community in 2018 to celebrate Frederick Douglass and his lasting impact on our nation’s history.”
The committee has designed a series of events honoring Douglass throughout the year.
“Frederick Douglass is one of the greatest historical figures in our country’s history,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren in a statement. “His leadership of the abolitionist movement—and humanity—are renowned throughout the world. This significant anniversary gives us another opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices he made during his extraordinary life in his tireless fight to abolish slavery as well as his contributions to the women’s suffrage movement, while shining a spotlight on our city. We are grateful for all of the dynamic partners who have joined together to form the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee and we look forward to honoring the legacy of Douglass together in Rochester.”
[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer