By Tyronda James
A 3D larger-than-life-size likeness of Frederick Douglass’s first Anna Murray Douglas was unveiled November 13 at the Douglass Family’s first Rochester home at 297 Alexander Street.
The driving force behind the project was artist Shawn Dunwoody, RIT’s Hinda Mandell and Edison Career & Technology High School’s carpentry teacher, Scott Moore.
“One of Rochester’s greatest assets is its rich history related to the pursuit of freedom and justice,” said Mr. Dunwoody. “I hope this installation inspires more investigation about one of our most famous activist residents.”
The piece is of Anna Murray sitting out on the front stoop of her home, the first home that Frederick Douglas owned as a free man. Mandell said it’s a representation of her, the matriarch on the front stoop taking care of her family and home.
Mandell, associate professor in the School of Communication at RIT said she was not all that aware of Anna Murray but became aware due to a piece of writing by Emily Morry, a historical researcher in the City Historian’s Office about the parking lot.
“I got all this like righteous indignation of why is there no historic marker here? Why is there no recognition of the woman who worked so hard and so tirelessly to raise her family and keep a home, so that Frederick Douglass could tour and do his social reform work,” said Mandell. “So, kind of that anger propelled me to learn more about Anna Murray Douglass.”
Mandell said that RIT owns the piece, and the next step is the desire for it to become part of a listening tour where people can come and learn more about the historical site.
Mandell said the Douglass Family lived in their Alexander Street home around 1848, 1851. “And this spot was a site on the underground railroad and main was the spot in 1851 to move to a more secluded area in Rochester as they really continue to step up their underground railroad activities because they were really too vulnerable in this kind of center city spot here,” she noted.
Dr. Mandell thanked the supporters and funders of the Alexander Street installation which include the College of Liberal Arts, College of Art and Design, MAGIC Spell Studios, Division of Diversity & Inclusion, NTID, Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Individualized Study, School of Communication, William A. Kern Professorship and the Department of History.
Dunwoody also created portraits of Anna and Frederick’s five children, one of whom was Annie Douglas who was born at home in 1849.
Descendant, Nettie Washington Douglass said there is far less known about her great-great-grandmother, Anna, than there was about her husband, Frederick. “That’s what makes this and other Anna Murray Douglass projects so important,” Douglass said.
“Students interested in winning cash prizes for creating their own Anna artwork should also check out Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives’(FDFI) ‘Life in Portrait’ Contest.” Ms. Douglass is also Chair of FDFI. Additional information can be found at www.fdfi.org.
Headquartered in Rochester, NY, the FDFI is an Abolitionist and Antiracist organization co-founded by direct descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Its mission is to build strong children and to end systems of exploitation and oppression, according to the website.
“This is very exciting. This was three years in the making,” Mandell noted.
“We thank the Frederick Douglas family initiatives for their support for this and the incredible work that they’re doing, anti-racism work in the city.”