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RMSC receives Frederick Douglass collection

The Rochester Museum & Science Center has acquired a new archival collection of Frederick Douglass materials including photos, pamphlets and more. The new collection, titled “The Anne Weaver Teabeau and Roland B. Scott Jr. Collection on Frederick Douglass,” was donated to the museum by the estate of Roland Scott Jr., Douglass’ great-great-grandson.

“My husband, Roland B. Scott Jr., was invested in preserving and making available to the general public his library collection and Frederick Douglass memorabilia,” said Justine Scott, who facilitated gifting the collection to the RMSC. “After a family visit to the Rochester Museum & Science Center to view their display of the Underground Railroad and Frederick Douglass, he was inspired to donate his collection to the museum. It is hoped that this donation builds on a better understanding and appreciation of the role and contributions made by African Americans and Frederick Douglass to American life.”

Some unique objects included in the collection include:
• A framed photograph of Douglass with a letter from him
• A life insurance certificate for Douglass
• Pamphlets on Cedar Hill
• A book of Frederick Douglass Stamps and related materials
• A framed photograph of Rosetta Douglass Sprague, currently on display in “The Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World” exhibit
• A signed copy of “My Mother As I Recall Her,” written by Rosetta Douglass Sprague
• The death announcement for Frederick Douglass, published on Feb. 20-21, 1895
• A signed copy of John Blassingame’s “The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South”

Accepting the donation into the collections at the RMSC Museum is significant because of the collection’s focus on the Douglass family, which provides a more holistic view of Frederick Douglass beyond his life as a public figure, officials said. The collection will give researchers insights into the life and work of Douglass as well as that of other prominent Douglass family members, including the work of Anna Murray Douglass and Rosetta Douglass Sprague. In addition, it fills a gap in the RMSC library resources on general African American history.

“We are very excited to accept this historically significant gift into the collections at the RMSC. By preserving this collection and giving the general public access to the materials, we can further tell the story of Frederick Douglass and his family,” said Stephanie Ball, RMSC archivist and librarian.

The RMSC Research Library has limited hours which differ from regular Museum hours, and access to the library is by appointment only.

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Airport to be renamed for abolitionist Frederick Douglass

The Greater Rochester International Airport will adopt the name of the city’s most famous abolitionist.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass

County lawmakers on Tuesday voted to change the airport name to Frederick Douglass – Greater Rochester International Airport, following a petition and bipartisan legislation co-sponosored by Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder and Republican Legislator Karla Boyce on July 30.

“I got very emotional when I heard the news,” said Nettie Washington Douglass, great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass. “This is an incredible honor for the Douglass family, which includes all of the residents of Rochester, N.Y. Thanks to everyone who made this possible including Richard Glaser, who started the name change petition, and the Monroe County Legislature. I can’t wait to hear the captain say, ‘Welcome to Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport!’”

Douglass is also the great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington and chair of Rochester-based, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI).

In a letter to local legislators, Felder and Boyce wrote that “to know where we are going, we must first remember where we have been.” The legislation not only authorizes the name change but placement of educational materials within the airport to allow travelers to learn about Douglass.

The legislation does not require any additional funding from the County of Monroe. Last month, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello endorsed the action, stating that he looked forward to working with the Federal Aviation Administration “to advance this initiative through the approval process in the weeks and months to come so that we can honor the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass in this way.”

Kenneth Morris Jr.
Kenneth Morris Jr.

“Frederick Douglass was one of the most well-traveled Americans of the 19th century so there’s no doubt he would be a frequent flier in the 21st century,” said Kenneth Morris Jr., FDFI president and Nettie Washington Douglass’ eldest son. “Douglass called Rochester his home and he chose this as his final resting place. By honoring this particular historical figure in this way, I believe that Rochester is saying something important about itself: it wants to be a national center for individual rights and justice.”

The petition for the name change was led by Glaser, founder of Digital Rochester and an original board member of Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. Glaser also founded RocGrowth, a platform that supports entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the Rochester region.

The petition reads, in part: “A former slave, Douglass is considered the most influential African American of the 19th century. He is known across the globe for his fight to end slavery and his advocacy for the unrealized foundational principles of our country.

“Douglass’ message might be more relevant today than ever since the struggles he fought for remain ongoing. His words and actions continue to inspire us to rise to a higher vision of ourselves and our nation,” the petition reads.

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Douglass family nonprofit to move to Rochester

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass

The family of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass plans to make Rochester the new home for the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.

The announcement was made this week by Douglass’ great-great-great grandson, Kenneth Morris Jr., and his mother, Nettie Washington Douglass. The nonprofit’s current home is Atlanta.

“Every day since 2007, our organization has been building a body of work around the question, what would Frederick Douglass be doing if he were here today?” Morris said. “We began by joining the struggle to end modern forms of slavery. FDFI is now recognized as a leader in human trafficking prevention education.”

FDFI is an abolitionist organization co-founded by direct descendants of Douglass and Booker T. Washington. FDFI combines lessons from the legacies of Douglass and Washington, and its mission is to advance freedom through knowledge and strategic action.

“In order to effect change on specific challenges facing this community and many other communities around this nation and the globe, we want to leverage our experience in confronting the deeply rooted dilemma of slavery, of human trafficking,” said FDFI Co-founder Robert Benz, describing the organization’s vision for its work in Rochester. “In Rochester, Douglass found ‘no soil better’ to grow, harvest and share his passion for the pursuit of freedom.”

In January, Mayor Lovely Warren and County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo proclaimed 2018 as “The Year of Frederick Douglass,” encouraging Rochester residents and visitors to celebrate Douglass’ life and legacy.

Rochester was Douglass’ home from 1847 to 1872, and he lived here longer than anywhere else in his life. While in Rochester, Douglass published his newspapers, the North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He helped friends Amy and Isaac Post in Underground Railroad activities, hosted runaway slaves in his own home, gave speeches, supported women’s suffrage alongside Susan B. Anthony and more before moving his family to Washington, D.C., after his house on South Avenue was burned down.

Douglass died at his home, Cedar Hill, in the Anacostia section of Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 1895. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.

FDFI, which has helped install statues of Douglass around town, has been a leader in implementing human trafficking prevention education curricula in classrooms nationally since 2007.

“When I stand in this city that my great-great grandfather called home and chose as his final resting place, I realize that all Rochester residents are heir to his legacy and members of the Douglass family,” Washington Douglass said. “Rochester is where his legacy will continue to live. I think together we can make great things happen here.”

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Douglass property deed shows abolitionist’s interest in economic development

A deed discovered by a team from Rochester Institute of Technology in December shows that Frederick Douglass made efforts to invest in Rochester, and not just live and work here.

The famed abolitionist, who was born into slavery 200 years ago and lived in Rochester for 25 years, bought land on North Clinton Avenue in April 1863. The land has been part of the Sibley Building property for more than a century.

“This is an important document and we’re thrilled to have found out about it during the Douglass bicentennial,” said Richard Newman, a history professor in RIT’s College of Liberal Arts, who identified the document while working with undergraduate students at the Rochester Historical Society. “This property deed tells us that Douglass saw Rochester not only as his activist home, but a community that he wanted to invest and build in as a businessman and civic leader.”

Carolyn Vacca, professor of history at St. John Fisher College and historical society president, said, “We’re proud that the historical society has preserved this key record of Douglass’s business career for so many years. It shows that we are truly Rochester’s story keeper.”

Newman suggested the land could have been meant as a home for Douglass’ printing business or as housing for fellow African-Americans returning from the war.

“Whatever he wanted to do, Douglass felt strongly about tying his future to the city of Rochester. It’s where he matured as an activist, an editor, a community leader and a statesman.”

During the war, however, Douglass was often traveling on speaking tours and to drum up Union support. He was unable to keep up with mortgage payments on the property and the land reverted to the original owner, a white neighbor of Douglass’ when he lived on Alexander Street.

“It’s pretty clear that the toll and sacrifice of the Civil War led to his losing of the property,” Newman said. Once they found the deed, Newman and the RIT students dove into research of Douglass’ letters and other documents to try to understand why he lost the property two years later. After regaining the property, the original owner sold it for twice what Douglass had paid for it—a little more than $3,000.

“We can trace what he’s saying and thinking at this time. Going through these letters, he’s also thinking about the costs of the Civil War and his and his family’s recruiting efforts,” Newman said. Three sons, for instance, were in the Union army but received no pay for more than a year when they protested being paid less than while recruits.

The tale of the property and its loss also reflects the larger story of how hard it was for African-Americans to amass wealth during the 19th century, a time when other self-made men who were white—Carnegie and Rockefeller among them—were making fortunes.

“Douglass helped win the Civil War but he lost an important investment,” Newman said.

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “The discovery of this important property deed sheds new light on the life and work of Frederick Douglass in Rochester and demonstrates that he fully understood, just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would articulate some 100 years later, that true freedom for former slaves must also include economic equality. We already know of Douglass as an author, orator and abolitionist, and now we also know him as one of Rochester’s earliest investors.”

Douglas moved to Washington in 1872, but maintained a home on Hamilton Street and was buried in Rochester. His continuing land ownership may have reflected the need to hold onto assets that would allow him to vote in this state, Newman said. But he also counseled his children to invest in land and seemed to feel safety by owning land in the North.

“Douglass linked property with suffrage, property with equality,” Newman said.

Newman said he hoped the document will be displayed at some future event celebrating the Douglass bicentennial.

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Hundreds ‘shine a light’ on Douglass

"Shine a Light on Douglass" is part of a yearlong effort to celebrate Frederick Douglass' life and accomplishments. (Photo provided by RIT's Big Shot Team)
“Shine a Light on Douglass” is part of a yearlong effort to celebrate Frederick Douglass’ life and accomplishments.
(Photo provided by RIT’s Big Shot Team)

Hundreds of Rochesterians came together Wednesday evening—as part of a yearlong celebration of Frederick Douglass’ life and accomplishments—to shine a light on the beloved 1899 Douglass monument at Highland Bowl.

“Tonight’s ‘Shine a Light on Douglass’ event helps to illustrate the legacy of Frederick Douglass, who placed a bright, shining light on the importance of equality and justice for all people,” Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said in a statement. “Monroe County is proud to be a partner in this historic community event and join with the hundreds of residents from our community in paying respect to one of Rochester’s trailblazers, Frederick Douglass.”

Rochester Institute of Technology’s Big Shot Team was on hand to create a set of archival photos of the lighted monument. A 30-inch by 40-inch photo will be on display at Rochester Contemporary Art Center’s “No Soil Better” exhibit through March 18, and will be available for download at RoCo’s website.

“No Soil Better” features new artworks by a diverse group of emerging and established artists that reflect on how Douglass has been memorialized and the importance of his legacy today.

“We are honored to help lead the production of this once-in-a-lifetime picture of Frederick Douglass and appreciate the enthusiasm of Rochester to come out in all sorts of weather to help us make these nighttime community photographs,” said Big Shot Team members Michael Peres, Dan Hughes, Therese Mulligan, Debbie Kingsbury and Jessica Campbell.

“Shine a Light on Douglass” is part of the “Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass” public art project, exhibition and community-wide reflection commemorating the 200th anniversary of his birth.

The yearlong celebration is a collaborative effort between lead partners Rochester Community Media Center and RoCo, and their leaders Carvin Eison and Bleu Cease, in collaboration with a wide range of community partners including the county. The project will celebrate Douglass’ achievements and legacy throughout 2018.

Dinolfo announced last month that the county will be moving the 8-foot tall, bronze monument this spring to a more visible  location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive. The monument is renowned as the first civic monument in the country to honor an African-American citizen. This summer, a series of life-size statues of Douglass created by artist John David Vincent will be placed at historically significant locations around Rochester.

Project director Eison expressed his gratitude to Monroe County Department of Parks, under the leadership of director Larry Staub, for allowing project officials unique access to the Douglass monument to assure that Vincent’s recreation is a “powerful, inspiring and moving depiction” of Douglass.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Frederick Douglass anniversary events planned

The city of Rochester and the Rochester Public Library are sponsoring several events at the Central Library and the Frederick Douglass Community Library in honor of Frederick Douglass , who was born 200 years ago in February 1818. Douglass chose to celebrate his birthday on Feb. 14.

Events scheduled throughout the year, which Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren has proclaimed The Year of Frederick Douglass, include:

  • From 1 to 2:30 p.m., Saturday, at the Central Library’s Rundel Memorial Building, 115 South Ave, there will be a discussion with Leigh Fought, author of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, in the second floor conference room of the Rundel Memorial Building. Fought, professor of history at LeMoyne College, will discuss the role women played in Frederick Douglass’ life and how they influenced his activism. For information, visit or call (585) 428-8366.
  •  There will be a birthday party celebrating Frederick Douglass at 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, at the Frederick Douglass Community Library, 971 South Ave. Robert Djed Snead will perform as the Rev. Jermain Loguen, a Douglass contemporary, and will speak about abolitionism, the Underground Railroad and the importance of education and community involvement. Patrons can sign a birthday card for Mr. Douglass and enjoy light refreshments. This event is sponsored by Friends and Foundation of the Rochester Public Library. Learn more at
  •  A Frederick Douglass re-enactment is set for 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Frederick Douglass Community Library, 971 South Ave. The Frederick Douglass re-enactment will be performed by Nathan Richardson, a poet and performer who will recite one of Frederick Douglass’ speeches and answer questions as Douglass. The event is sponsored by Friends and Foundation of the Rochester Public Library.
  •  An exhibit called Frederick Douglass’ Rochester: Mapping His Tracks in Our City will be open until Aug. 31 at the Central Library’s Rundel Memorial Building, 115 South Ave. The exhibit on the second floor of the Rundel Memorial Building, highlights the spaces and places that informed Douglass’ life in Rochester. The free exhibit is open during library hours: Monday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Wednesday., 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed on Sunday). Call (585) 428-8370 for more information.
  •  Numerous other events are also being planned throughout the year. Visit for a schedule of events and more information.

Rochester marks Douglass’ 200th birthday

The Frederick Douglass monument in Highland Park will be moved to a more accessible location  at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive this spring. (Photo by Carvin Eison)
The Frederick Douglass monument in Highland Park will be moved to a more accessible location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive this spring. (Photo by Carvin Eison)

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.

rctv-logo-fchromagreen“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?”

roco“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