“Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass” Highlights Douglass’ Living Legacy for 200th Birthday in 2018

Two hundred years after the birth of Frederick Douglass, arguably the most celebrated 19th-century African American statesman, Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass is an extensive year-long recognition and reflection on the living legacy of the man and former slave, whose 25-years in Rochester resulted in some of his most important life’s work, including the establishment and publication of the abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.

Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass is a public art project, exhibition and community-wide reflection commemorating the 200th anniversary of his birth. A collaborative effort between lead partners Rochester Community Media Center (Carvin Eison, project director and general manager) and Rochester Contemporary Art Center (Bleu Cease, executive director) in collaboration with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiativesand a wide-range of community partners who have come together as the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee, the project will celebrate Douglass’ achievements and legacy, including on his chosen birthday of February 14. Project Manager Christine Christopher and Emeritus Committee Chair and National Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commissioner Dr. David Anderson round out the committee leadership. Dr. Jose Torre, chair of the History Department at SUNY Brockport is the history consultant.


A series of life-size statues of Frederick Douglass, faithful replicas of the Sidney W. Edwards statue in Highland Park, will be placed at locations that are historically significant to his life in Rochester. A mobile-friendly web site will provide interpretive information including a self-guided walking/driving tour map, biographical information, timeline, and excerpts from his speeches; an educational curriculum will be prepared and shared with schools throughout the region; and the web site and social media will cross-promote other events sponsored by museums, arts organizations, schools, colleges and other partner organizations. 

The eight-foot bronze monument of Frederick Douglass first installed in 1899 is the first civic monument in the country to honor an African-American man and is a starting point for the exhibition. 

“The Sidney Edwards’ statue of Frederick Douglass is significant both as historic and cultural touchstones, and as a celebrated work of art. But perhaps more importantly​ – at a time when statues in many parts of our country are provoking angry divides and tearing communities apart, this statue is a uniting force for good -- as Douglass was for our nation -- bringing us together in a common purpose,” said Carvin Eison. 

Monroe County will be moving the Douglass monument in Spring 2018 to the more publicly accessible location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive. The community is invited to join RIT’s Big Shot team who will be organizing a “Shine a Light on Douglass” event on the evening of February 14 to create both a memorable experience as well as an important archival photo of the monument. Big Shot is the nighttime community photography project produced by RIT’s School of Photographic Arts & Sciences. Shortly after the event, the photo will be hung in RoCo’s “No Soil Better” exhibit.


Opening on February 2 through March 18, Rochester Contemporary Art Center (RoCo) will present a curated exhibit, “No Soil Better: Art & the Living Legacy of Frederick Douglass,” featuring new works by nine artists that reflect on the legacy of Douglass, how Douglass has been memorialized and how his legacy and image continues to live. Featuring wide-ranging media from experimental video art and abstract painting to historical murals and multi-media installations, these newly-commissioned art works will add a new level of texture by which to appreciate and understand Douglass’ living legacy. A public Artist Talk is scheduled for February 3. In addition, RoCo will also host facilitated discussions on February 8 and 15 to bring Douglass’ work and philosophy into the public sphere through a contemporary lens, posing the question “what would Douglass do?”

“The Sidney Edwards monument gives form to this incredible man and is a wonderful work of art,” said Cease. “In recognition of Douglass’ bicentennial, we’re commissioning works by nine contemporary artists from across the region and New York City to create works for the 21st century inspired by Douglass—inspired by his legacy—and really taking a critical look at how we as a city, and perhaps more broadly as a nation, look at and remember this remarkable man and his influence.”


The third component of the project is the convening of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee. Under the leadership of Rochester Community Media Center and Rochester Contemporary Art Center, and in collaboration with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee is a group whose members have a wide-range of missions and interests; but are all dedicated to honoring the Douglass legacy throughout 2018, the bicentennial year of his birth. Since July, the group has been meeting regularly to share information and inspiration, and to find synergy with other community partners to celebrate the achievements of one of the nation's most distinguished civil rights leaders whose most important work was done in Rochester. A wide-array of events are scheduled and/or being planned.  A calendar of events may be found at cityofrochester.gov/FrederickDouglass200, with additional information available at committee members’ respective websites. 

“As we near Frederick Douglass’ bicentennial celebration in 2018, it is important for residents to know that there was no other city that resonated in the life of my great-great-great grandfather more than Rochester, NY,” said Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., co-founder and president of the ​Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. Morris is also the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. “I am honored and excited to be working with The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Committee in making Rochester the epicenter of the national celebration.”

“Monroe County is proud be a sitting member and strong supporter of the Frederick Douglass

Bicentennial Commemoration Committee,” said Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo. “As a fitting tribute to Rochester’s legendary civil rights trailblazer, we look forward to joining together with residents and families all across our community in 2018 to celebrate Frederick Douglass and his lasting impact on our nation’s history.

“Frederick Douglass is one of the greatest historical figures in our country’s history,” said Rochester Mayor A. Lovely Warren. “His leadership of the abolitionist movement –and humanity– are renowned throughout the world. This significant anniversary gives us another opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices he made during his extraordinary life in his tireless fight to abolish slavery as well as his contributions to the women’s suffrage movement, while shining a spotlight on our city. We are grateful for all of the dynamic partners who have joined together to form the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration Committee and we look forward to honoring the legacy of Douglass together in Rochester.”

The FDBCC would like to thank the City of Rochester and Monroe County for their support. RCTV and RoCo specifically would like to thank New York State Regional Economic Development Council, Rochester Area Community Foundation, The Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, ESL Foundation and Michelle Garcia-Daniels for their underwriting support of the statue project and the RoCo exhibit.