With all due respect to Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass is duly merited with being Rochester’s most iconic historical figure. In 1895, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. After unsuccessfully attempting to escape slavery twice, he finally fled into the free state of Pennsylvania at age 20. He subsequently became one of the greatest leaders of the abolitionist movement and dedicated his life to working towards freeing his fellow African Americans until the day he died. Today, his body continues to be memorialized at the famous Mt. Hope Cemetery. Ironically, despite his world-renowned burial site, the monument that was erected to honor him has not acquired a comparable level of fame. As a matter of fact, it took me a while to search through Google to find the exact address of his monument. Finally, after obtaining the address, I set off to Highland Park to photograph his monument. Much to my dismay, finding the actual monument was no easier to find than the address.
Driving down Robinson Drive, as you can see, it’s very easy to miss the monument. It is located on the far left of the above photograph, in the middle of a very large empty grass area. There were no clear signs pointing to the existence of the monument, but when I got out of the car, I could finally see a very small maroon-colored sign attached to the street name sign stating, “Frederick Douglass Monument.” Though I was able to see it after getting out of the car, any typical driver would have certainly overlooked it.
After enjoying a nice stroll across the grass field, I was able to get a very close-up view of the statue. Because there were no fences or any security, I was able to take my time and comfortably walk around the statue and read the memoirs that were etched in the metal. Seeing that it is quite a large monument standing inclined on a hill, I could imagine a dangerous situation in which children would try to climb on it and accidentally fall off.
After walking around the monument area for a bit longer, I realized that despite it being much closer to South Ave than Robinson Drive, even the drivers on the other side would not be able to see the monument due to all the thick trees blocking the view. From standing in front of the statue, you can barely see the cars that are passing by. Can you even spot the car driving by in the below photo?
After I got home, I decided to do some research on the history of the monument to find out exactly why it was so poorly located. After some digging, I was surprised to find out that this was not the original location of the monument. It was originally erected in 1899 in downtown Rochester on St. Paul Street and Central Avenue near the New York Central Railroad Station. According to Democrat and Chronicle, the area became congested and polluted, so the City Council voted unanimously in 1941 to move it to its current home in the Highland Park. They chose this unusual location because Frederick Douglass’ farm house was located very close by. Although it’s close to the Highland Bowl, this area is often desolate. Besides the occasional company of schoolchildren, Rochester’s only memorial of Frederick Douglass is left in the shadows of the surrounding trees. As a civil rights activist, I find this extremely insulting, for Frederick Douglass’ lifelong work and successes certainly obliges him a much more amiable spot.
I found that the bleak vibe emanating from this area does not give the viewer the full pleasure of memorializing one of our country’s greatest leaders. The effect of the monument is quite grim; even though I came here specifically to view the statue, I did not feel very welcomed nor eager to honor Frederick Douglass. I could imagine that for the average parkgoer, this statue would mean absolutely nothing. Although the structure is majestic and hard to miss, there is nothing on the statue that indicates the significance of this man’s deeds. Surely, Frederick Douglass deserves far better for all that he has done for African Americans and the country as a whole.