The airport finally has its new name, but the people who pushed for the change have more plans to honor the legacy of Frederick Douglass.
“I’m hopeful that this is just one thing in a long list of things to celebrate Douglass,” said the Rev. Julius D. Jackson Jr., who participated in a ceremony Feb. 14 as the gateway to Monroe County was renamed Frederick Douglass – Greater Rochester International Airport.
Jackson several years ago proposed renaming the airport for the escaped slave who became an abolitionist, orator, publisher and statesman. He also was instrumental in having the Douglass monument moved from next to the Highland Bowl to the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive, where it now is lit at night.
After the airport ceremony, Jackson led a birthday celebration at the monument, where people placed flowers.
Despite the day of remembrance and accomplishment, he and other advocates for Douglass announced that they are not done.
During the airport ceremony, Jackson proposed illuminating Douglass’ gravesite at Mt. Hope Cemetery and also creating a walk of fame to honor people he called unsung heroes in the fight for equality.
Carvin Eison, of the Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass project, announced a fundraising effort to have a bronze monument to Douglass placed in the airport. The statue will be created by Olivia Kim, who created the 13 monuments that stand in various locations in the city. Eison later said he’d like to see the statue installed by the end of this year. He said there is some money to start the project, but it will cost more than $225,000.
Eison said Douglass stood for the truth, “a value that we need in Rochester and in this country right now.”
Eison said Douglass also stood for education and literacy. By placing a monument to Douglass in the airport, “we are saying not only to our community here in Rochester, but we’re saying to the national community, these values are worth holding.”
The ceremony included a video message from Kenneth B. Morris, great, great, great grandson of Douglass and co-founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
“It’s so exciting to think that everyone arriving into Rochester by air residents and visitors alike will have their experience shaped in some small way by the legacy of my great ancestor,” he said.
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello signed legislation in August to begin the process of changing the airport name. The process required the Federal Aviation Administration to change air traffic control maps and make other administrative adjustments. The airport code ROC stays the same.
The legislation also called for educational materials about Douglass.
Bello said renaming the airport for Douglass “is a clear signal of the pride that we take in our community’s history and the legacy of civil rights work. But it’s also a signal of the work that we have yet to do the fight to secure equality, equity and justice for all members of our community is far from over.”
While Jackson had lobbied for years to name the airport for Douglass, momentum picked up last July when Rochester resident Richard Glaser started a change.org petition in the midst of national unrest over social inequities.
“I am a student of history,” Glaser said. “And Frederick Douglass is under-recognized as being one of the greatest Americans that blessed this country. I also am reminded if we don’t know our past, we don’t understand the present and we won’t be able to change or direct the future. So hopefully this is a flame that continues to burn and gets brighter and is available at this gateway for the community for all.”