By Tracie J. Isaac
On December 3, 2021, the recently renamed Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport hosted descendants of Frederick Douglass, Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. and Kevin Douglass Greene. An invited audience of Rochester Frederick Douglass Community Scholars and numerous supporters and guests witnessed the unveiling which is housed on the second floor of the Frederick Douglass Airfield Observatory.
Morris and Greene were joined by Former Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren, Monroe County Executive Adam J. Bello, Brian Benjamin, New York State Lt. Governor, NYS; renowned Douglass historian Dr. David “Sankofa” Anderson as well as mural donors Michelle and Eric Daniels as the ribbon cutting procession for the unveiling of the phenomenal artwork by muralist Michael Rosato.
The colorful, larger than life mural depicts segments of historical events of the Douglass family, local historical abolitionists including Harriett Tubman and women’s rights advocates such as Sojourner Truth, leading up to current day historians and descendants dedicated to keeping the legacy of Frederick Douglass alive.
The journey to produce the Frederick Douglass mural began with an Easton, Maryland, where Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and escaped North with the help of Anna Murray, where Michelle Daniels visited Terrance Bailey, the five-time great nephew of Douglass.
During the trip Daniels requested to be taken to see the mural of Harriett Tubman, located in the downtown Cambridge area. Daniels’ was so amazed by the Tubman mural, she then inquired why there was not a mural of Frederick Douglass. Daniels asked Bailey to locate the Harriett Tubman muralist which resulted in the first Douglass mural to be commissioned in early 2021 with the guidance of Bailey’s vision.
The second mural evolved after Daniels sought guidance from historian and Rochester resident Dr. David Anderson. Michelle Daniels is to be credited with spearheading and funding the commission of the mural and that it would represent the immediate and descendant family members of Frederick Douglass and the timeline of events that occurred in Rochester. Her enthusiasm and commitment were so great that her husband, Eric Daniel’s volunteered to donate half of the funds for the mural.
A special addition to the philanthropic efforts of Michelle Daniels was that the muralist Michael Rosato offered her the rights to the mural. In turn, Michelle gifted the rights and ownership to the Douglass family matriarch, Nettie Douglass Washington, descendant of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. The gift of the deed to the artwork was accepted on his mother’s behalf by Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. Daniels remarked that it was important to her that we tell our own stories and have ownership of our history.
In remarks by Bello, he stated that the mural will be a beautiful tribute to a Rochester icon and great American hero. Additionally, visitors entering and departing the airport will view the mural as a living showcase of the impact that Frederick Douglass had on Monroe County, the United States and the world: the legacy to fight for equality, freedom and inclusion.”
After spending the earlier part of the week in Rochester, Benjamin was on hand for the mural unveiling at the invitation of Michelle Daniels. As a resident of New York City, during his early years Benjamin did not feel he obtained comprehensive Black history in school. After passing a statue of Frederick Douglass in the 110th St. area of Harlem, he was somewhat intrigued by this figure. He pointed out that he independently gained full knowledge of the work and contributions of Frederick Douglass after school. Benjamin added that the knowledge he gained was crucial and that it is essential that everyone learns the truth about our history.
As the three-times great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington, Morris is following in the Douglass legacy, which began in 2007 by co-founding the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation (FDFF).
The mission of the FDFF is to create awareness of modern-day slavery and human trafficking and help expedite its abolishment. Additionally, the foundation has partnered with schools across the nation to collaborate on creating a new proclamation. “Abolition through Education” is the credo of the education program. It’s goal: “to agitate for change.” Additionally, Morris paid recognition to Anna Murray Douglass for introducing the ideology to Frederick Douglass that no matter what the slave master says, he was not meant to be a slave. Anna Murray was a domestic, a seamstress, an entrepreneur and a conductor for the Underground Railroad. She used her money and masterminded the escape plan to get Frederick Douglass to freedom.
Warren shared that Morris and the Douglass Family Initiatives are returning to Rochester to continue building the Frederick Douglass legacy and commence the development of a Douglass Family Museum Center Project during this generation. She stated, “It’s time that the true history of Rochester and America is told.”
Morris left the audience with the message that “We all have greatness and history running through our veins and we must tell our own stories and control the narrative and own our history.”