Frederick Douglass's 199th Birth Anniversary Honored At New York Gravesite

Feb 15, 2017

ROCHESTER (WXXI) - People gathered at the gravesite of Frederick Douglass on a cold yet sunny morning in Mount Hope Cemetery to honor his life and legacy on the anniversary of his 199th birthday. 

Credit Caitlin Whyte / WXXI

The event was created by the ROC Douglass Consortium, a group that started about a week ago after realizing there was no official birthday celebration in place.

Mara Ahmed is one of the organizers of that group, she said many people may not realize his impact on a variety of civil and human rights issues.

"Abolitionism for example, on the civil war, on the politics that followed the civil war and that were produced by the civil war; as well as many very modern things like intersectionality and his support of women's rights."

The event included a number of speakers and asked members of the crowd to participate by reading quotes by Douglass.

Douglass was also an outspoken advocate for equal access to education. Born into slavery, he taught himself to read and write, and later founded and published The North Star anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester.

David Shakes recited one of Douglass's most notable speeches, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" Shakes is an actor and historical interpreter, often performing Douglass reenactments.

He said he was inspired at a young age by Douglass and is constantly finding comparisons between his words and our world today.

"One of the speeches even talks about the world shrinking, reminding me of how the world continues to shrink with the electronic media and social media, he spoke of a world where we could no longer be isolated."

Douglass spent 25 years living in Rochester in the late 1880's fighting for civil and human rights. It was the longest he spent in one city in his lifetime.

Carolyne Garman attended the event and says she was inspired to learn more about Douglass after moving to Rochester 30 years ago.

"I started by teaching in Frederick Douglass Middle School, and found a box of his books, 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" that no one was reading. So I took the box to Franklin High School where I was transferred and we read it every other year."

With no record of his actual birthday, Douglass chose February 14th to celebrate.