Reenergized efforts to honor historical hero Frederick Douglass will soon result in the development of a new Rochester museum. Community leaders want to encourage a greater celebration of the life of this influential abolitionist who made many of his contributions to the anti-slavery cause while living here in Rochester.
“Douglass and Rochester go together,” director of UR’s Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies and Associate Professor of History Larry Hudson Jr. said. “It was here in Rochester that Douglass did some of his best work as far as bringing attention to the awful nature of slavery, prodding President Lincoln and many northerners to realize the necessity of the abolitionist cause.”From 1847 to 1872, Douglass lived in Rochester, working as an ambassador, a writer and an abolitionist. From here he published his anti-slavery newspaper ‘The North Star,” rallied former slaves like himself, served as an adviser to President Lincoln and supported the Union during the Civil War by recruiting black soldiers to enlist. It was during this time that he and Susan B. Anthony first met.
They eventually formed a partnership through which they worked together for the abolitionist cause and the women’s suffrage movement, helping to shape American identity. By establishing a permanent site devoted to Douglass, local historians hope to memorialize his legacy.
“I think a Frederick Douglass Center would be a nice thing to have because he did so much for the slaves of his time and showed that even when people are constantly trying to hold you back and stop you from doing something they don’t like, it can be done,” sophomore Meghan Powers said.
The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center was Rochester’s first attempt to create such a place, but it closed in 2000, only a year after its opening. Since Douglass’ former house on South Avenue was destroyed by fire in 1872, it has been difficult to find and maintain an appropriate memorial site. Despite challenges, community leaders have found a building, located at 36 King St. in downtown Rochester, that they hope will become a permanent home for a Frederick Douglass Museum and perhaps a theatre and academy as well.
The aim of a commemorative site would be to expose an ever-widening audience to the lessons Douglass taught in the 19th century. The exhibit would be available to the whole community and would hopefully bring information to many groups concurrently.
“Douglass’ model, one which emphasizes the importance of the freedom we take for granted, can save us today,” Hudson said. “We still have a great deal to learn from his profound and universal message.”
This weekend, UR will be host to the 2003 Frederick Douglass Conference, an academic gathering of scholars who will further discuss the messages Douglass spread and the model he upheld. The three-day event will begin Thursday evening at 7 p.m. in Hoyt Auditorium with Yale University Professor David Blight’s presentation, “Douglass and July 4th Celebration,” a talk which will address why African Americans may be more or less reluctant to honor this holiday which celebrates freedoms which were so long denied them.
Conference sessions will continue Friday and Saturday, including discussions on abolitionism, emancipation, reconstruction, the politics of gender, war, Douglass’ contributions to each of these causes and the history of Douglass’ life.
Professor Hudson encourages all UR students to attend this weekend’s events. The date and location of the conference were specifically chosen to give undergraduates at UR the opportunity to interact with leading Douglass scholars and reflect on the interdisciplinary nature of Douglass studies. “I would like our UR community to embrace Douglass,” he said. “We all need to learn more about the wonderful and full life of Douglass in order to benefit from his example.”
Fitzgerald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.