ROCHESTER, N. Y. – The highly anticipated relocation of the Frederick Douglass memorial statue from the leafy recesses of Highland Park Bowl on South Avenue to a familiar corner of the park commenced last Thursday. The short groundbreaking ceremony marked a decade since a local pastor pitched the idea of moving the iconic statue to a more visible spot.
State, county and local officials met to participate in the ceremony and to note the historical importance of Douglass. State Assemblyman Harry Bronson, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, county legislators, and other community leaders were on hand to shovel scoops of earth at the site of the quarter million dollar memorial plaza.
“Frederick Douglass’s legacy is a testament to what makes our community such an incredible place – an unyielding commitment to equality, inclusion, and fairness that rings true throughout the generations,” Dinolfo said.
Funding the project came from a $125,000 state grant obtained by Assemblyman Bronson and another $115,000 secured by the county through a New York State Dormitory Authority municipal program.
Earlier this year, Monroe County Parks Commissioner Larry Staub said the statue’s location in the park became more secluded over the years and needed “a place of greater prominence.” The county parks department is the lead agency in relocating the statue and building the memorial plaza at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive.
Construction of the plaza was originally scheduled to start in 2018, but the county kept postponing the start date due to delays in approving funds from the dormitory authority. The county said construction will begin in earnest at the end of the August and should be completed sometime in October.
Why didn’t construction start this week?
Rev. Julius Jackson, pastor of Trinity Emmanuel Church on Shelter Street, said he came close to giving up on his proposal many times but is grateful to the people who supported and encouraged him to keep pushing.
The Douglass statue is a true Rochester treasure since it is the first memorial in the country to be dedicated to an African American. Stanley Edwards, a well-known African-American artist living in Rochester, sculpted the statue.
In 1899, The Democrat and Chronicle reported a crowd of 10,000 showing up for the first dedication of the statue in front of the New York Central Train Station at St. Paul Street and Central Avenue. Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, made the trip out from Albany and was the keynote speaker for the event.
Last year, Rochester honored the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’s birth through museum exhibits, discussions, concerts, and 13 epoxy-and-fiberglass replicas of the Douglass statue placed at key points significant to the time Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 to 1872.
Undoubtedly, the unveiling the Frederick Douglass memorial plaza would have been the capstone event in last year’s bicentennial celebration, but at least one of Rochester’s leading citizens will stand tall, facing north on a busy city street corner and reminding everyone of the impact one life can have in securing the freedom, dignity, and rights of future generations.