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Frederick Douglass Freedom Festival Honors Original Unveiling of Statue

Staff report

A celebration of the lighting of the Frederick Douglass Monument in December 2019. File photo

An annual event celebrating the Frederick Douglass Monument is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., June 9, at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive at Highland Park.

The Frederick Douglass Freedom Festival commemorates the June 9, 1899 unveiling of the Frederick Douglass Monument, the first in the nation to honor a Black person. At the time, the statue stood at Rochester’s railroad station and thousands of people attended the ceremony.

This year’s event is the first in-person celebration since the Douglass statue was moved from next to the Highland Bowl to the corner, where it is more visible to motorists and pedestrians.

Last year’s celebration was done virtually because of COVID-19.

“We’re paying homage to a great champion for civil rights and the everyday people he inspired through his unrelenting fight for ‘colored men’ to be accepted into the U.S. military,” said the Rev. Juanita Elizabeth Carroll, chief operating officer of the Pitts Friends of Frederick Douglass. “Initially created to honor colored soldiers and sailors, the monument has come to mean many things to many people. This commemoration recounts the story of the courageous fight, the determination and perseverance of those ‘everyday’ people to give us this monument. In today’s ‘reckoning over race,’ those same qualities are essential to achieve racial justice and harmony.”

Carroll’s mother, Dr. G. Juanita Pitts Carroll, led the Friends and organized the festival for decades until her passing in 2015. According to the Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research & Education on Women, Inc., Dr. Pitts realized her dream of getting the area between South and Mt. Hope avenues, which marks the site of the Douglass homestead renamed Frederick Douglass Memorial Square in 1993, complete with signage informing local residents and tourists about its historical significance.

In 2019, after a decade of advocacy led by the Rev. J.D. Jackson Jr., the statue was moved to its now-prominent location and illuminated. The plaza where the statue stands has sculptures representing the North Star and constellations.

“Besides being an international abolitionist, statesman, and author, Douglass was publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper,The North Star,” said Carroll, “And it’s so fitting that the plaza, which is lit up at night, is adorned with sculptures representing the North Star and other constellations.”

The approximately hour-long commemoration at Frederick Douglass Memorial Plaza will include experts sharing little-known facts about the monument and inspirational music. Admission is free and attendees are encouraged to wear masks.