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Rochester group celebrates Frederick Douglass Monument’s 122nd anniversary

Frederick Douglass Monument
April Franklin
Frederick Douglass Monument

This week, 122 years ago, a monument made in the likeness of Frederick Douglass was unveiled in Rochester to an audience of over 10,000 people. The statue was the first in the U.S. to be made in honor of an African- American and for decades the occasion has been celebrated.

On Wednesday, June 9, a group called “Pitts Friends of Frederick Douglass” will host a festival to commemorate the 122nd anniversary of the Frederick Douglass Monument in Highland Park. 

The organization ‘s mission is to preserve the legacy of the late abolitionist and is led by Reverend Juanita Elizabeth Carroll. It has been renamed in honor of Carroll’s late mother, Juanita Pitts. 

Carroll said that Pitts played an important role in teaching people across the country about Douglass and she wants to continue her legacy.

“Some people knew he was here and some people knew he was buried here, '' said Carroll. 

“She really raised the focus with constant programs every year, three and four programs within the Douglass legacy.”

Because of her advocacy and knowledge of Douglass, Pitts went on to become the president of Douglass Memorial and Historical Association, an organization in Washington, D.C.

This year’s celebration will be held at the monument’s new location at the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Street. The monument was moved from the Highland Bowl to a more visible location in 2019.

Carroll said that over the years, her mother and many other people have contributed to preserving the Douglass monument and she hopes others are inspired through their work.

“Just to know who it was that worked so very very hard to bring the monument I think will be inspiring to other folk who may not see themselves as a leader,” said Carroll.

Last year’s celebration was a virtual one, but Carroll said they're looking forward to this year’s event. 

“Even though we want people to wear masks and be cautious, we are very very happy that this will be an opportunity to be at the monument itself,” said Carroll.

Attendees will hear remarks from Douglass’ descendants, city and county officials, and experts who will share little known facts about the abolitionist. The event is free and open to the public and will take place this Wednesday June 9 at 5:30 p.m.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.