By Tyronda James
The once vandalized statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was reinstalled Thursday, July 16 at Kelsey’s Landing in Rochester’s Maplewood Rose Garden. Supporters gathered at the historical site, once an Underground Railroad departure point to Canada, for freedom seeker.
The Douglass statue was recently vandalized the weekend of July 4 making its way to national news coverage as well as the attention of President Donald Trump.
“From time to time communities have opportunities to advance the ideas of fairness, goodness and collective responsibility to make a difference in the lives all of its citizens — but too often those opportunities slip away and they do nothing,” Re-Energize the Legacy of Frederick Douglass Committee program director, Carvin Eison said.
“However, here in Rochester, when our community faces its challenges, we do everything we can to make a difference for everyone. As we return this monument to its home in Kelsey’s Landing, we again affirm the values and principles Mr. Douglass stood for throughout his life. With every generation, here in our community, those values grow stronger.”
The first monument of Douglass was installed two years ago to celebrate the bicentennial of his birth, occurring the same weekend the abolitionist delivered his most powerful speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” 168 years ago.
John Boedicker and Charles Milks who were arrested for vandalizing another statue of Douglass in December 2018, along with city crew reinstalled the statue back to its place. Both participated in the restorative justice program, a project collaboration of the Center for Dispute Settlement and the Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass Committee. This momentous event also became a story of redemption for Milks and Boedicke, who contacted Project Manager Christine Christopher to assist after hearing of the recent vandalism.
“I want to be a part of the rebuilding or any steps that are to be taken in response,” said Boedicker.
“I don’t want to be silent on this because Frederick’s message became a part of me after I did what I did. Now more than ever I would like to convey that.”
Milks said going through that process once was difficult, “I want to be an ally for you during this time and want to help in any way possible. Our redemption isn’t over. There’s still more that we can do to be a part of, to help with this process and other things involved in the community. So it’s just a small step.”
The statue reinstalled today was not the original statue vandalized. The monument’s artist and sculptor Olivia Kim said the statue that was vandalized is not fit for outdoor public display and a new sculpture will be made in its replacement.
The monument is part of the “No Soil Better” self-guided heritage tour of sites across the city commemorating the life and work of Douglass. The tour, a component of the Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass is a community-wide reflection, public art project and exhibition memorializing the 200th anniversary of Douglass’s birth.
“Rochester is stronger because of the legacy of Frederick Douglass. I am pleased to see Douglass’ statue home again at Kelsey’s Landing here in Maplewood Park where freedom took shape for so many who traveled the Underground Railroad. As we face injustice today, we must hold steadfast in our commitment to equity and justice as we continue the work of Frederick Douglass,” said Assemblyman Harry B. Bronson.
Eison said he received an overwhelming amount of support from many from all over the world. He announced the launching of a new fundraising campaign from overpouring responses to the latest act of vandalism, a major gift of $10,000 from John Lipman, MD, Founder & Medical Director of the Atlanta Fibroid Center.
“I was heartbroken to hear that vandals had destroyed his statue,” said Dr. Lipman.
“I grew up in the same neighborhood in Rochester as Frederick Douglass. His statue symbolizes racial equality and human rights very similar to Atlanta icon Martin Luther King, Jr. It was important to me that this iconic symbol was restored as quickly as possible.”
The funds collected will be used; to create a new statue, to create a fund to refurbish the existing statues, which may need repainting/refinishing and creating a maintenance/repair fund for minor (non-vandalism) repairs which have been needed from time to time.
Donations to the Friends of Frederick Douglass GoFundMe campaign can be made by visiting rctvmediacenter.org.
Mayor Lovely A. Warren said she is proud to live in the city of Frederick Douglass, “where so many of our citizens have strived to ensure his connection to Rochester and the ideals he championed would never be forgotten.”
Further details of the Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass bicentennial project are available at www.DouglassTour.com.