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Effort underway to place bronze statue of Frederick Douglass at the airport that now bears his name

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Max Schulte/WXXI News
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A sign with the new name went up at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport in 2021.

There’s an effort to put up a permanent bronze statue of Frederick Douglass at the airport in Rochester that now bears his name.

The airport was renamed earlier this year for the famed abolitionist, who lived in Rochester from 1847 to 1872 and is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

The airport has a new sign, with the new name — the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport. But local organizers want a more meaningful exhibit, including a statue of Douglass and an educational display.

Local sculptor Olivia Kim designed the 13 Douglass sculptures that are scattered around Rochester, and she wants to design the permanent bronze statue of him, especially because of what he represents.

"Douglass was supported and helped by many, many hands within his own lifetime, and I think that hopefully this sculpture will remind people of the enormous team effort, the family effort that was involved in the abolishment of slavery,” Kim said.

Carvin Eison is project director for the effort, called Re-Energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass. He said the bronze statue would help remind visitors to Rochester’s airport about the impact that Douglass has had for more than a century and will continue to have for years to come.

“They will be confronted with a man whose values and whose work ethic and whose output was so extraordinary, that 120-something years after his death, he is still commanding a spot on the 6 o'clock news,” Eison said.

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Credit Max Schulte/WXXI News
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One of the fiberglass Frederick Douglass statues designed and built by sculptor Olivia Kim. This one is located at Maplewood Park.

Eison said that honoring Douglass at the airport is an important part of trying to unify Rochesterians over issues that Douglass believed in.

“To help solidify and bring together our local community. Our local community can be so fractured and so siloed and so separated that we need the values of Frederick Douglass in the same way that our community needed those values in the late 19th century," Eison said.

There’s an effort now to raise $250,000 for the bronze statue of Douglass and an educational exhibit, and Eison is confident there will be enough support to make that happen.

Kim, an adjunct professor at RIT's College of Art and Design, has expressed the need for urgency in the fundraising effort, since lead gifts made by the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities will expire by the end of the year.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.