June 19, 2013 (202) 224-7433


After More Than Five-Year Wait, Douglass Statue Placed in the U.S. Capitol at Ceremony in Emancipation Hall; Schumer Introduced Original Bill to Break Five-Year Legislative Logjam

Schumer’s Successful Efforts Added to the Mere Three Statues of African Americans, Out of More Than 180 Sculptures in the Capitol

Schumer: After Long Struggle, Rochester Hero Finally Placed Where He Deserves to Be – at the Center of our Democracy

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer celebrated the arrival of statue of former Rochester resident, Frederick Douglass, one of the most influential African American leaders in American history, to reside permanently in the U.S. Capitol. Schumer introduced a measure last year that directed the Congressional Joint Committee on the Library to accept a statue of abolitionist statesman Frederick Douglass for prominent display in the U.S. Capitol Building. Schumer’s legislation successfully cut through bureaucratic red tape that had kept the statue of Douglass, completed by sculptor Steven Weitzman in 2007, in a District of Columbia government building blocks away from the Capitol. Working closely with the House on this bipartisan effort, Schumer pushed to get the legislation passed and sent to the president’s desk. It was signed into law on September 20, 2012.

“After a more than five-year struggle through Congress, the ceremony to install the Frederick Douglass statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall is a capstone for Rochester’s American hero. I’m thrilled to finally participate in this historic ceremony,” said Senator Schumer. “The millions of tourists who come to the U.S. Capitol from Rochester and across the country can now view this statue in its rightful place, and all future generations can honor Frederick Douglass’ legacy at the center of the democracy he fought all his life to make better.”

Also attending the ceremony was Rochester area 8th grader Campbell McDade Clay. She is a two-time winner of the National Park Service’s annual Frederick Douglass oratorical contest, in the 6th to 8th grade category. Campbell attended elementary school at School Number 12 in the City of Rochester, which was built upon the site of Douglass’ second Rochester home on South Avenue. It was through the school’s Frederick Douglass Club that Campbell began studying oratory and Douglass’ words, leading her to participate in both the local and National Park Service oratorical competitions.

Schumer mentioned at the ceremony that the first monument in the nation honoring Frederick Douglass was erected in 1899 in Rochester’s Highland Park by the people of Rochester.

Schumer’s legislation highlights that Frederick Douglass was a leading voice for the emancipation of slaves, women’s suffrage, and civil rights in Upstate New York and that his message of equality resonated throughout the country. Until now, only three out of more than 180 statues and busts of prominent Americans on display in the Capitol portray African Americans. The other African Americans recognized with sculptures in the U.S. Capitol include Sojourner Truth in Emancipation Hall, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Rotunda, and Rosa Parks, whose statue was unveiled in Statuary Hall earlier this year.

In addition to Schumer, today’s ceremony in the U.S. Capitol featured Vice President Joseph Biden, House Speaker John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. All of the speakers highlighted the influence of Frederick Douglass and his uniquely American story. The last speaker at the ceremony was Ms. Nettie Washington Douglass, a descendent of both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Her mother, Nettie Hancock Washington, was a granddaughter of Booker T. Washington and married Frederick Douglas III.

Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland in 1818, Douglass escaped from slavery at age 20 and lived in Massachusetts, Ireland, and Great Britain before he settled for 25 years in Rochester. While in Rochester, Douglass published and edited “The North Star,” the most prominent African American newspaper in the country. This groundbreaking periodical, in addition to his speeches and his bestselling-autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” helped influence the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments. These are known as the Reconstruction Amendments, and marked major victories for civil rights in the United States between 1865 and 1870.

Schumer also noted in his original bill that Douglass not only delivered eloquent and highly influential speeches during his 25 years in Upstate New York, but he also converted his words into action. Douglass was a leader in the Underground Railroad in Rochester and Western New York – important hubs for escaped slaves due to their proximity to Canada. During the Seneca Falls Convention, held to promote women’s rights in 1848, Douglass participated as the only African American and one of only 37 men out of 300 attendees. Douglass’s presence at the convention in Seneca Falls underscored his belief that the women’s rights movement and African American emancipation went hand-in-hand.

Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 until 1872. He purchased his first home in Rochester at 4 Alexander Street near the corner of East Avenue in April of 1848. He once wrote to a friend about Rochester: “I shall always feel more at home there than anywhere else in the country.” Douglass moved to Washington, DC in 1872 after a fire destroyed his Rochester home. He died in Washington and was buried at Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery in 1895.


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