Week Two – Frederick Douglass Monument

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/columnists/memmott/2015/06/30/remarkable-rochester-frederick-douglass-monument/29518479/

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5 thoughts on “Week Two – Frederick Douglass Monument

  1. Hi Rachel,

    To be honest, I didn’t even know that we had a Fredrick Douglas monument. I’ve been to his grave site and I’ve seen the memorials surrounding it, but that’s it. You’d thinking being a Rochester native that I would have at least heard about this once or twice in my lifetime. I will definitely be making the trip to his monument before winter hits up.

    From the pictures, it looks giant; I like that the viewer has to look up to him, because of the person he is and the acts that he completed I feel that this is only fitting. However, I do agree that it looks to be in the middle of nowhere. I looked it up on googlemaps and it is almost unrecognizable and hidden behind whatever is in the background of your first image. Not that signs would make it’s placement any better, however did you see anything that could have pointed you in the monuments direction? I understand why they moved it out of downtown because of the congestion and pollution, however why didn’t they think of putting it near his grave?

  2. Hi Rachel,

    I also did not know this monument existed here in Rochester. Rochester prides itself on being the home of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, yet as you have pointed out if feels we have failed his honor. I have been to Highland Park many times and have never seen this. I have walked on foot, driven through, and even had a picnic in this park but was never directed towards this monument. Every year Rochester hosts the Lilac Festival in this park and yet no attention is given to this historical hero. I agree with you that the relocation seems like a poor choice. Based on what you found in your research, it seems as thought people were trying to equate this as a good location since he lived near by. My only thought here is that maybe when the statue was relocated there weren’t as many trees, certainly not trees the size they are today (58 years later).

    Thinking about the articles we read this week and coming up with ideas for what to do with statues/monuments that are taken down, I’m wondering if there is a better place for this one. Mt. Hope cemetery is already nationally famous and houses copious amounts of history, I feel like it would loose some of its significance there. But I currently do not have another idea of a better place. Maybe keep it in highland park and just move it to a more visible spot, or make its current spot more visible and attention drawing.

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for enlightening us on such an amazing monument right here in Rochester!

  3. Hi Rachel, Although I’m aware of Frederick Douglass’ legacy in Rochester, I’m actually embarrassed to say I have not visited this monument. However, your post has inspired me to do so. Relative to the statue’s placement in Highland Park, I can see why this would probably be a more favorable place to locate it, maybe due to an attempt to preserve it, or to avoid vandalism. Still, I do also think either the city or the county, whichever entity owns or is responsible for the statue, should do more to promote the fact that it exists. It may have more of an affect on each member of the community if it were something people were able to visit more often.

  4. Oh wow, I have never heard of him before (well I give the excuse that I’m not from here *wink*). The funny part is that it is just 5 minutes drive from me, and my friend claims we have passed there 5 to 6 times and I didn’t even notice it. So I totally agree that location doesn’t really help in terms of the visibility aspect.

    I also want to agree with the fact that the gigantic trees seems to be competing with the monument.
    Overall it was an amazing history to read about.

  5. Rachel, this is such an interesting and thoughtful post. Rochester could do much more to honor Frederick Douglass in a material way and this is such a perfect example. I’m glad you looked into the history of the statues location. With all the controversy surrounding statues in our country now, it seems like a perfect opportunity for Rochester to move this to a more prominent location. Maybe we should consider some action research as a class and contact Mayor Warren… it is an election year!

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