September 23, 2013


Douglass Statue in the Capitol After Five Year Wait

Schumer Adds One more Statue of Prominent African Americans to the Capitol. Now there are Four Statues of African Americans – Out of More Than 180 Sculptures of Prominent Americans in the Capitol;

Schumer: After a five year Struggle, This Statue to Honor Rochester Hero is placed in Emancipation Hall

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer celebrated the arrival of statue of American
hero and Rochester resident, Frederick Douglass, to reside permanently in the U.S. Capitol.   Schumer introduced a measure that directed the Joint Committee on the Library to finally accept a statue of abolitionist hero and statesman Frederick Douglass for prominent display in the U.S. Capitol Building.  Schumer’s legislation successfully cut through bureaucratic red tape that kept the statue of Douglass, completed by sculptor Steven Weitzman in 2007, in a D.C. government building blocks away from the Capitol. Working closely with the House on this bipartisan effort, Schumer pushed to get the legislation passed and sent to the president’s desk.

“After a five-year struggle through Congress, the placement of this statue honoring Frederick Douglass was long overdue for Rochester’s American hero,” said Schumer.  “I am honored to be part of the ceremony unveiling his statue in Emancipation Hall today.  One of the greatest heroes in the history of our nation, and a proud resident of Rochester, now sits in the U.S. Capitol. The millions of tourists who come from Rochester and across the country can now see this statue in the place where it belongs” Schumer continued

Schumer’s proposal highlighted that Frederick Douglass was a leading voice for women’s rights and the emancipation of slaves in upstate New York and that his message of equality resonated throughout the country. Currently, only three out of more than 180 statues and busts of prominent American figures on display in the Capitol portray African Americans.  The other African-Americans currently depicted
in the U.S. Capitol include Sojourner Truth in Emancipation Hall, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Rotunda and most recently a statue of African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks unveiled in Statuary Hall earlier this year.

Today’s ceremony in Emancipation Hall of the United States Capitol featured Vice
President Biden, Speaker Boehner, former Speaker and current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and both Senate Leaders: Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell as well as Senator Schumer and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.  All of the speakers highlighted the influence Frederick Douglass and told his uniquely American story.  Ms. Nettie Washington Douglass was the last speaker at the ceremony and she has the distinction of being a descendent of both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.  Her mother, Nettie Hancock Washington was a granddaughter of Booker T. Washington and married Frederick Douglas III.

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland in 1818, Douglass escaped from slavery at age 20 and lived in Massachusetts, Ireland, and Great Britain before he settled for 25 years in Rochester. While in Rochester, Douglass published and edited “The North Star,” the most prominent African-American newspaper in the country. This groundbreaking periodical, in addition to his speeches and the acclaim of his bestselling autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,”  contributed to the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, also known as the Reconstruction Amendments, which marked major victories for civil rights in America between 1865 and 1870. 

Schumer also noted in his original bill that Douglass not only delivered eloquent and timely speeches during his 25 years in upstate New York, but he also converted his words into action. Douglass was a leader in the Underground Railroad in Rochester and western New York, important hubs for escaped slaves due to their proximity to Canada. During the Seneca Falls Convention, a historic gathering near Geneva, NY to promote women’s rights in 1848, Douglass participated as the only African American and one of only 37 men out of 300 attendees. Douglass’s presence at the convention in Seneca Falls displayed his belief that the women’s rights movement and that of emancipation went hand-in-hand. 

Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 until 1872. He purchased his first home in Rochester at 4 Alexander Street near the corner of East Avenue in April of 1848. He once wrote to a friend about Rochester: “I shall always feel more at home there than anywhere else in the country.” Douglass returned to D.C. in 1872 after a fire engulfed his Rochester home. He died in Washington, D.C., and was buried at Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery in 1895.