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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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