Frederick Douglass Statue Torn Down on the Anniversary of His ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’ Speech

American orator, editor, author, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895) edits a journal at his desk, late 1870s.
American orator, editor, author, abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass (1818 - 1895) edits a journal at his desk, late 1870s.
Photo: Hulton Archive (Getty Images)

On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave an iconic speech in Rochester, N.Y., in which he asked a question that is still relevant to Black people 168 years later: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” On Sunday in Rochester—on the anniversary of the day Douglass delivered his speech—a statue of the 19th-century abolitionist was torn down.

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From the Associated Press:

Police said the statue of Douglass was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglass and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom. Police were continuing their investigation Monday and no arrests had been made, according to a department spokesperson.

The statue was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet (15 meters) from its pedestal, police said. There was damage to the base and a finger.

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“This is all that is left at this [particular] moment of a monument that we put so much work and thought and love and care into,” Carvin Eison, a project director for the organization responsible for bringing the Douglass statue to the park, told WROC referring to the concrete base where the statue stood.

“What comes of this?” Eison asked. “Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over Confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing. It’s beyond disappointing.”

Investigators looking into this travesty of this crime haven’t announced any suspects, but this has “angry white people who will swear they aren’t racist” written all over it. Indeed, this probably was done in retaliation for Confederate monuments being toppled over all over the country.

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Of course, those of us who want to see Confederate statues come down are objecting to the celebration of the institution of slavery. What statement is being made by tearing down the Douglass statue? That abolition was wrong and those who fought for it don’t deserve commemoration?

That this happened on the anniversary of Douglass’ speech and in the same city where it was delivered indicates that this wasn’t a tit for tat thing like when a white man in Richmond, Va., painted “White Lives Matter” on a statue of Black tennis player Arthur Ashe because “You guys tagged my statue so I am tagging your statue.” In that instance, any old Black person’s statue would do, but this was something different.

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Anyway, Eison told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that the damage to the statue is too extensive for it to be repaired, but he said another statue will take its place.

According to WROC, Eison said he wants to “put a monument back here immediately so whoever did this [knows] that we are not going to be deterred from what our objective is and our objective is to continually celebrate Frederick Douglass.”

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“They can topple over this monument, they could go topple over all of them, this monument will still stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument,” he said.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

The people who did this must be really proud of and believe in the rightness their cause. That’s why they did it when nobody was watching and haven’t taken responsibility for their activism.