2018 is the year of Frederick Douglass.
The abolitionist and social reformer called Rochester home for more than two decades. And now the city, county and several organizations plan to celebrate Douglass and his legacy in the 200th anniversary his birth year.
During a public announcement Thursday afternoon to officially proclaim 2018 the “Year of Douglass,” organizers of this years’ events said they want to not only reflect on his legacy but re-energize it.
“2018 is going to be a spectacular year with wide-ranging projects, artists’ exhibitions interpretations and so much more has been planned for this year,” said Carvin Eison, project director for the “Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass,” the committee spearheading this years’ events.
Perhaps one of the most notable is the relocation of Douglass’ statue. It currently sits in Highland Park in the city, near the park’s Amphitheatre. However, shade from the trees and the park’s natural layout means the memorial is partially hidden and can be difficult to find. The county’s response? They’re going to move it to a more visible spot. It was originally located downtown when first unveiled but in early summer, the county will undertake efforts to move it to the corner of South Avenue and Robinson street.
“He is an icon not only here in the City of Rochester, not only in the county of Monroe, not only in the state of New York not only in the country but in the world,” said County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo. “To think that a publication as impactful as the North Star was published right here in our hometown is a testament to the history and the spirit fostered right here in Monroe County.”
But even before they move the statue, several events will center around it. On his birthday, Feb 14, the Rochester Institute of Technology is hosting “Big Shot.” Locals are invited to bring a flashlight and shine it on the statue. Photographers will then capture that scene for a “once-in-a-200-year” opportunity. There will also be life-sized replicas made of the statue then placed around the city. This allows his memorial to be seen and reflected on by more residents and in their own neck of the woods. When he lived here, Douglass lived in the Highland neighborhood and the library there is now named after him.
“Frederick Douglass would be proud to see his adopted home today as we have made great strides in creating better educational opportunities for our citizens our residents, more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods,” said Deputy Mayor Cedric Alexander. “We know our work isn’t done but we look forward to 2018 with optimism.”
This year’s events will include large county- and city-organized events but will also include shows by lesser-known artists and discussions facilitated by local churches. The Rochester Public Library will digitize his newspapers and make them freely accessible online. The goal? Get the entire city discussing Douglass and energized by his work to create more change in the city of Rochester.
Interestingly, Douglass did not know his birthday. He was born in bondage, and slave records weren’t accurate. Instead he chose his birthday and selected Feb 14 because his mother, before her death, called him her “Little Valentine.” But he was even unsure of the year, prompting some local activists to hold a smaller-scale celebration at his grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery last year.
Many of this year’s events are free and family-friendly. The City has created a webpage and while it only shows events through mid-February, officials plan to consistently update the site.