In the shadow of the building where Frederick Douglass published the North Star, a statue of his likeness replaced one that had been toppled on Sept. 15.
Carvin Eison, project co-director of the Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass Project, directed one of several messages to the as-yet unidentified vandal or vandals.
“You thought you could hurt us, but you didn’t,” he said during a ceremony Oct. 27. “In fact, you did just the opposite. By doing what you did, you gave us yet another opportunity to come together to life up the legacy of Douglass, yes an opportunity to prove to the community, the nation and the world that we are a united city. Together we celebrate the things that he stood for, and what we hold dear – equal rights, equal opportunity and equal respect for all.
The statue at Aqueduct Park on East Main Street was the third of the dozen statues placed around the city to be damaged. Vandals struck a downtown statue in 2018 and one in Maplewood Park last year. The one at Aqueduct Park had been broken at the base and the extent of any internal damage wasn’t known.
“When we unveiled the Frederick Douglas statues at the Hochstein School of Music in 2018, we knew that these statues would send a message, but I don’t think any of us could anticipate just how powerful that message would become,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “Last summer, we stood together at Maplewood Park for the very same reason. But let me be clear. Attempts to destroy these statues and what they stand for has instead amplified the message of Frederick Douglass. If you tear it down, we will put it back up time and time again, because we will not let his legacy be destroyed here in the city of Rochester.”
Eison said it’s likely that Douglass stood on the very ground where his statue was reinstalled. “Could he have imagined Bill Johnson, the first African American mayor of Rochester … ? Could he have imagined Lovely Warren, the second African American mayor and the first woman mayor of Rochester? Could Mr. Douglass have imagined Malik Evans, presumptive and third African American mayor of Rochester … ?
Evans, who described himself as “usually a nice guy,” spoke harshly and bluntly of the perpetrators.
“They’re idiots, he said. “They don’t have the knowledge, wisdom and understanding of why the message of Douglass is so powerful and so amplified, particularly to us in the African American community. It’s sacrilegious, it’s hurtful, it’s painful because you’re knocking down our history, our culture and our legacy. … You’re showing your own ignorance and you’re empowering us and giving us more strength and more endurance to say we’re going to keep putting them back up. …”
The vandalism occurred about 10 days before a fire that authorities said was suspicious damaged the back porch of the Susan B. Anthony House.
“It’s amazing when just the symbol of what a person stands for can either inspire or incite a reaction,” said Deborah Hughes, president and chief executive officer of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. “How incredible that the symbol of Frederick Douglass can still provoke a response. And it is because Douglass and I believe Anthony as well, both challenge us to look in the mirror and see our worst selves, but also to look to the future and try to become our best selves.”
The replacement Douglass statue that was affixed to the base at Aqueduct Park had been at Rochester Community Television and is the last spare in the series created by sculptor Olivia Kim.
The fiberglass statues that make up a self-guided tour (www.douglasstour.com) were scheduled to be on public view for three years and they are nearing the end of that time.
Eison said no date has been set for their planned removal, but he expects it will by next summer. The statues are scheduled to be auctioned with the proceeds benefiting Rochester Community Television.
Efforts are being made for Kim to create a bronze statue to be place on permanent display at the renamed Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.