State Watch

Frederick Douglass statue vandalized, ripped from base in New York

A statue of Frederick Douglass was ripped from its pedestal in upstate New York on Sunday, the day marking the 168th anniversary of the American abolitionist giving one of his most seminal speeches condemning slavery.

Rochester police said that the statue was taken from its base in Maplewood Park and carried about 50 feet to a site near the Genesee River gorge, according to The Associated Press. The base, lower part of the statue and a finger on its left hand were reportedly damaged. 

Carvin Eison, a leader of a project that brought a Douglass statue to the park in the city, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that another statue would have to take its place because the damage was too significant to repair. 

“It’s particularly painful that it happened at this time,” Eison told the newspaper. “It’s really sad because here in Rochester the statue of Frederick Douglass has always been a face of good.”

A motive for the vandalism was not immediately clear. 

Douglass, who was born a slave in Maryland, delivered one of his most famous speeches on July 5, 1852, in Rochester. The speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” questioned the Fourth of July celebration of freedom and liberty in a nation that enslaved people. 

“What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?” he asked while speaking before the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? … What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?

“I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

A group of Douglass’s descendants gathered to read that speech for a video released by NPR over the weekend. The five descendants of Douglass also reflected on the speech’s resonance amid the nationwide protests in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. 

The presence of a Douglass monument in Rochester is also historically significant given the work he did during his life in the city. Maplewood Park is a site on the Underground Railroad where Douglass and others, including Harriet Tubman, aided slaves seeking freedom in the North. 

The Douglass statue is one of 13 that were erected in the city in 2018, according to CBS affiliate WROC-TV. Sunday’s incident marks the second time one of the monuments has been vandalized.

Tags Abolitionism in the United States Frederick Douglass New York Rochester
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