Frederick Douglass statue vandalized in upstate NY park on anniversary of speech

A statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass has been toppled and destroyed in upstate New York — on the 168th anniversary of his most famous anti-slavery speech.

Rochester police said the statue of the former slave was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglass and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom.

It was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet away, and the damage to the base and a left-hand finger was deemed beyond repair, officials said.

The destruction came on the anniversary of Douglass’ 1852 speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” — one that had been widely shared recently amid ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

In it, Douglass said that for a slave Independence Day is a day that reveals “the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

“This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn,” he said of the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while so many were slaves.

Those who helped bring the statue to Rochester felt the timing was too coincidental to not be deliberate — along with the recent spike of statues of slave owners being toppled by anti-racism protesters.

“Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it’s beyond disappointing,” Carvin Eison, a leader of the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, told WROC.

Frederick Douglass
Frederick DouglassBettmann Archive

He also told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “It’s particularly painful that it happened at this time. It’s really sad because here in Rochester the statue of Frederick Douglass has always been a face of good.”

Eison vowed to replace the monument.

“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,” Eison told the Democrat & Chronicle.

Douglass escaped slavery in Maryland in 1838 and settled in Rochester for about 30 years. He is buried in the city’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.

More than a dozen statues of him were placed around Rochester — including the one toppled in Maplewood Park — in 2018, in remembrance of his 200th birthday, the Democrat & Chronicle noted.

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