By Tracie Isaac
For more than four decades Dr. David “Sankofa” Anderson is acknowledged as the renowned historian on Frederick Douglass. As an elder and respected community leader of Rochester, he is a widely sought authority to contribute to the education of Frederick Douglass’ legacy as abolitionist, a great orator and other historical figures that interacted with Douglass.
Because of Dr. Anderson’s commitment to the history of Frederick Douglass, during Black History Month, Senator Samra Brouk presented Dr. David “Sankofa” Anderson with the highest honor that can be bestowed by the legislature, the Liberty Medal on behalf of the New York State Legislature.
Dr. Anderson communicates the importance of the African American-Rochester history and timeline from 1817 to present day. He is a founding member of the Blacktorytelling League of Rochester, and of Akwaaba: The Heritage Associates which shares African American history in the tradition of the griots of Africa, traveling across the United States and Gahana, Rwanda. Dr. Anderson has sown the seeds of knowledge of Frederick Douglass through living history and reenactment. He is a Visiting Scholar at Nazareth College of Rochester, NY.
In a statement from Senator Samra Brouk she expressed that Dr. Anderson has dedicated his life to teaching and preserving the legacy and history of African American ancestry. “It is an honor to recognize his work and present him with the highest honor of our State Legislature. The Liberty Medal is a rare, special commendation for exceptional service to the community, and I am proud to be able to present this award for his contributions to Black History, especially during Black History Month. Dr. Anderson’s contributions to the Rochester community, and to Black communities across our nation cannot be overstated and the effects of his work and advocacy will be felt for generations to come.”
The presentation ceremony was held at the Anna Murray Douglass School #12 on Friday, February 25, 2022 to an audience of elected officials, local community leaders, students, officers of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and living Douglass descendants.
During the 200th anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ birth, Senator Charles Schumer appointed Dr. David “Sankofa” Anderson to the Bicentennial Commission of Frederick Douglass. This appointment required Dr. Anderson to serve for over a year to organize events related to celebrate Douglass’ birth and commemorate one of our nation’s greatest Americans.
“…Dr. David Anderson has devoted his life to fighting for social and economic equity for Rochester’s communities of color. Through his work at the Urban League, Action for a Better Community, the Rochester City School District and beyond, he fought to improve educational and career opportunities for Rochester’s brown and Black youth. For generations of people in Rochester, he has made invaluable contributions in preserving and teaching the history and legacy of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass and their entire family. His teachings on the rich histories, societies, cultures and traditions of America’s African ancestors and the triumphs and sacrifices of their African American descendants to overcome slavery, segregation, and racism empowered and inspired new generations of Rochester’s brown and Black youth to succeed. That’s why I was proud to appoint him to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission to share his immense knowledge with the entire nation, and I am happy to celebrate and recognize his many achievements and contributions today,” stated Senator Charles Schumer.
To add to the acknowledgements of Dr. Anderson a televised message from Kenneth B. Morris Jr., great-great-great grandson of Frederick and Anna Murray Douglass was presented: “I send congratulations to Dr. David Sankofa Anderson for receiving The New York State Senate Liberty Medal. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this honor. On behalf of the family of Anna Murray and Frederick Douglass, I thank him for his unrelenting spirit in retelling the Douglass family story over so many years. I know my great ancestors will be smiling down knowing that he’ll receive this recognition at the Anna Murray Douglass Academy, which sits on the site of the old family homestead. Dr. Anderson is a treasure and light in Rochester and the world. We carry your torch forward. Thank you, my dear friend and mentor.”
Inspired by the life of Douglass, who lived on the property where the Anna Murray Douglass Academy RCSD #12 school now stands, Michelle Daniels, a Parent Liaison staff member of the school, felt that more should be done to spark conversation and better knowledge of Frederick Douglass. Michelle Daniels has become an energized force extending the work of Dr. David Sankofa Anderson, with the support of her husband Eric. By creating and funding the Frederick Douglass Club at #12 school from 2007 to 2013; supporting the Reimagining Frederick Douglass initiative which has placed the custom statue replications of the original Frederick Douglass statue in various historical locations around Rochester (Daniels has purchased three of statues – one purchased for the backyard of her home and two that she has donated to locations in Rochester; to spearheading and underwriting with her husband Eric, a larger than life mural of the Frederick Douglass and family legacy in the newly named Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.
“Dr. David Sankofa Anderson is the patriarch of Rochester African American history. His efforts include bringing the International Underground Railroad Conference to Rochester, preserving the integrity of historical events, mentoring future historians, and sharing his wealth of knowledge to our community. Dr. Anderson single handedly has lobbied for decades to make sure that our educational institutions, youth, and government recognize the importance of each member of the Frederick Douglass family members,” stated Michelle Daniels.
On behalf of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Erica Mock, Executive Director, stated “I have had a connection with Dr. Sankofa Anderson from the very first time we met, us both being Ohio Natives and our love of history. While sitting in his living room last year, he gave me a charge: to educate the children about the Douglass’s. I took him seriously, and I was obedient to the order,” she said.
“Thank you, Dr. Anderson, for your light, encouragement, and guidance. And congratulations on your so well-deserved Liberty Medal Award. We are all eternally grateful.”
“It is an honor to host this celebration of Dr. Anderson at Anna Murray Douglass Academy. I thank Senator Brouk for hosting this event with us and commend Dr. Anderson for all he has done to educate and advocate for our community,” said Rhonda Morien of RCSD.
An event celebrating the life of abolitionist Anna Murray Douglass followed the award presentation at School #12 filling the day with new and old historical memories of the Douglass family legacy.