There is some more paperwork to do before the sign can change, but the facility on Brooks Avenue will be known as the Frederick Douglass – Greater Rochester International Airport.
The Monroe County Legislature unanimously approved a bill at its Aug. 11 meeting to change the name, pending final approval from other agencies.
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder and Republican Karla Boyce.
“What a great time to be a citizen of Monroe County,” Legislator Sabrina LaMar said as legislators discussed the bill before their vote. “I’m thankful to see us working together not only to educate our community but to heal our community. This is one way to do that. … I am glad to be a part of this and glad my children will be able to see it.”
Nettie Washington Douglass, great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass, said she became emotional when she heard of the legislature’s vote.
“This is an incredible honor for the Douglass family, which includes all of the residents of Rochester, New York,” she said in a news release from the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, an abolitionist and antiracist organization co-founded by direct descendants of Douglass and Booker T. Washington. “I can’t wait to hear the captain say, ‘Welcome to Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport’ ”
Renaming the airport had been discussed over the years. It literally took off after Rochester resident Richard Glaser started a petition on July 12 at Change.org.
Glaser, who started the grassroots organization RocGrowth.com, had written in 2019 that the airport should be renamed for Susan B. Anthony and Douglass. But when he started the petition, which was as people in Rochester and other cities were protesting injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in police custody, he said the focus should be on Douglass.
As of Aug. 12, the petition had nearly 5,000 signatures.
“The stars were aligned,” Glaser said after the legislature voted. “I’m getting an undue share of the credit.”
Glaser said people such as Carvin Eison and the Rev. Julius D. Jackson have been among those who’ve advocated to honor Douglass.
The bill submitted to the legislature noted “there have long been discussions” about changing the airport name to honor Douglass. That it was done about a month after the petition went up shows the power of the times and of social media.
The legislation does more than change the name. It calls for the placement of educational materials throughout the airport to allow travelers to learn about the life and legacy of Douglass.
“Nothing would make me happier to have the ribbon cutting and seeing the Shawn Dunwoody artwork and Wall/Therapy graffiti artwork in a part of the airport and hearing some great music from Danielle Ponder or whomever,” Glaser said. “This is an active process rather than passive.”
The Airport Authority is the next stop in the process, and it is the agency likely to deal with the Federal Aviation Administration on the logistics. The airport will retain its international designation.