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Self-Driving Tour of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY

"My attachment to Rochester, my home for more than a quarter century, will endure with my life." - Frederick Douglass.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, known as Frederick Douglass, was one of the most powerful orators and abolitionists of the 19th century.

This summer, I traveled to Rochester, NY to learn about Frederick Douglass and his impact in the Upper State. Some of Douglass' significant works include publishing the North Star, being instrumental in the Underground Railroad, and supporting Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Staton's women's suffrage movement.

Rochester has a self-guided Frederick Douglass tour that traces his life and legacy. Arriving at the Rochester airport, as a public art lover, I was ecstatic to see the Frederick and Anna Douglass mural at the Upper West Main Terminal near the Frontier Business Terminal. The mural, unveiled in 2021, was designed by Michael Rosato, is 29 feet long and 4 feet high, and was spearheaded by Michelle Daniels. I love that millions of travelers will see this beautiful piece of art in honor of a couple that was married for more than 44 years.

In 2021, the Greater Rochester International Airport was renamed the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport. It was unveiled February 14, the date Douglass chose as his birthday because his mother called him "her little valentine." The Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport, is one of only six national airports to be named in honor of an African American.

The self-guided tour are marked with 13 life-size, eight foot statues of Frederick Douglass. Each statue has a QR code that tells the story of Douglass' importance at that particular site.

The first original monument of Frederick Douglass was installed in 1899 on the corner of St. Paul and Central Avenues. After Douglass' death in 1895, black residents of Rochester made plans to erect a statue to honor Douglass. It was the first monument in the nation dedicated to a black man. Rochester Mayor Warner felt it was essential to have a statue of Douglass to honor his accomplishments in the city of Rochester. Douglass' second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass, wanted the statue in Highland Park, but the city politicians wanted the statue near the train station where it would be visible for travelers arriving and departing Rochester.

The pedestal is where the original Frederick Douglass statue was erected.

The original Douglass statue was removed and is currently located at Highland Park. Highland Park is a beautiful 150 acre park that is host to many fun activities, events and attractions.

The former site of the Douglass Family Farm was located at 999 South Avenue. In 1852, Douglass and his family purchased a farm at what is now 999 South Avenue. The farm was a stopping point on the Underground Railroad to provide aid and shelter to freedom seekers. Douglass, his wife Anna, and their children sheltered and aided hundreds of self-freed people while they lived in Rochester.

An arsonist destroyed the Douglass farm. Most of his North Star newspapers, correspondence, and personal belongings were lost in the fire. The Douglass family relocated to Washington, DC. The Anna Murray Douglass Academy sits on the site of the former Douglass farm.

The former Douglass Family Farm site is now home to the Anna Murray-Douglass Academy School No. 12.

300 Alexander Street (currently Alexander Apartments). Near the site of Douglass' first home in Rochester at 297 Alexander Street.

When Douglass first moved his family to Rochester, NY, in 1847, most white abolitionists did not want blacks living in their neighborhoods. Douglass purchased a home in a white middle-class area where his children attended school nearby. He was met with resistance and protest from his neighbors, but Douglass' charisma and personality won his neighbors over.

This is the location of the first original home, 297 Alexander Street, of the Douglass family from 1848 to 1851. Their home was used as a central stop of the Underground Railroad. Douglass, his family and their allies, moved hundreds of freedom seekers to Canada.

Kelsey’s Landing is located in Maplewood Park near the lower falls on the Genesee River. Kelsey's Landing was a shipping port that not only shipped goods but it was used to transport freedom seekers to Canada. Frederick Douglass was one of the freedom seekers that used the port to freedom on a boat to Canada. Kelsey's Lading is listed on the National Parks Services National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

During the 4th of July weekend of 2020, the Douglass statue at Kelsey's Landing was toppled and vandalized. It coincided with the 168th anniversary of Douglass' speech entitled "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July," on July 5, 1852, in Rochester. At the reinstatement of the new statue, two individuals, John Boedicker and Charles J. Milks took part in the installation.

In 2018, two college students, John Boedicker and Charles J. Milks, tried to steal and vandalize a Douglass statue in downtown Rochester. They pled guilty and agreed to participate in a program to learn Douglass's history and meet with Frederick Douglass's descendants. I wish I were a fly on the wall to hear that.

When Boedicker and Milks found out about another Douglass statue was vandalized, they wanted to be involved with the placement of the new statue at Kelsey's Landing. To see the video of the installation of the statue, go here.

(Photo credit Max Schulte)

At the Mount Hope Cemetery entrance, a Frederick Douglass statue greets you. Douglass and members of his family are buried at the cemetery (Douglass' daughter, Annie, died at age ten died from an illness, his first wife, Anna, and second wife, Anna Pitts Douglass).

The Washington Square Park. Site of Civil War “Soldiers and Sailors” Monument was unveiled Memorial Day of 1892. Frederick Douglass was one of the dignitaries that was in attendance. The cost of the monument was $26,000. This location is where Frederick Douglass gave many speeches, including condemning slavery to a crowd of thousands.

Lets Have Tea Monument located at the Susan B. Anthony Square in Rochester. Douglass and Anthony were considered friends but disagreed when it came to the right to vote.

Per the National Parks Service website: Some of those involved in the suffrage movement also divided over whether to support the Fifteenth Amendment, which would protect the rights of Black men but did not include women. Douglass strongly supported suffrage for women, but believed that the African American community had a more urgent need for enfranchisement. He was afraid that if the change did not occur at this particular moment, it possibly would never happen. Douglass had the support of many white abolitionists such as Lucy Stone and Wendell Phillips. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony disagreed with their friend. They insisted that all men and women must gain the right to vote at the same time. Indeed, they sometimes argued that white women were more qualified to vote than Black men and allied themselves with opponents of Black suffrage.

Anthony was with Douglass just hours before his death.

I was not able to go to the other Douglass statues due to construction and/or the location was closed.

University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library. Commemorating Douglass’ work in Rochester and repository for the Frederick Douglass Papers. - Closed

Intersection of Alexander Street and Tracy Street. The Seward School, attended by Douglass’ children. - Construction (This is the location John Boedicker and Charles J. Milks vandalized the Douglass statue.) Read article here.

The Talman Building, 25 East Main Street (currently vacant). Publishing site for The North Star and The Frederick Douglass Newspaper. Walk up visitation only; a bronze plaque commemorating Douglass’ life and work can be viewed on the side of the building. - Construction

Former site of AME Zion Church, 42 Favor Street (currently the site of the Greater Bethlehem Temple). Original site where The North Star was published, and a stop on the Underground Railroad. - Closed Gate

50 Plymouth Avenue North (currently the site of the Hochstein School of Music and Dance). Site of Douglass’ funeral in 1895. - Construction

Corinthian Street (formerly Exchange Place), just east of State Street. Site of Douglass’ renowned Fourth of July speech. - Construction

Throughout Rochester, there several murals of Frederick Douglass.

There is so much history about Frederick Douglass in Rochester. I highly recommend spending a whole day learning about the contributions of Frederick Douglass.

For more information on the Frederick Douglass self-driving tour, go to:

“I shall always feel more at home there (Rochester) than anywhere else in the country.” -Frederick Douglass

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