Monroe County Executive Adam Bello plans to advance an effort to name the Greater Rochester International Airport after Frederick Douglass, he announced Tuesday.
Bello said that the county will begin working with the Monroe County Legislature, the Federal Aviation Administration, and airport stakeholders over the next few weeks to study a potential name change.
“Frederick Douglass holds an unparalleled place of prominence in the history of Rochester and Monroe County,” Bello said in a statement Tuesday. “He called Rochester home for more than a quarter-century and it was here that he founded and published his North Star newspaper, wrote some of his greatest works and speeches and continued his life-long fight for emancipation, suffrage, equality and human rights.”
Bello’s announcement comes after more than 2,500 people signed on to a Change.org petition to rename the airport in Douglass’s honor. Richard Glaser, the founder of community advocacy group RocGrowth, started the petition over the weekend.
To Glazer, the name Greater Rochester International Airport hasn’t quite captured the vibrant history of the Flower City, nor has it honored any of the region’s most hallowed figures. He believes Frederick Douglass International Airport is a better fit.
“We’re a smaller city, but we have all of these attributes, and we fail to note them,” Glaser said. “An airport is the place to display ourselves to the world, and also to ourselves, we use it more than anyone else.”
Frederick Douglass moved to Rochester in 1843, where he began publishing the North Star newspaper, making Rochester a pivotal location in the abolitionist movement. Douglass stayed in Rochester until 1872, when he relocated to Washington following a house fire. He lived in Rochester longer than he lived in any other place.
Glaser likened the renaming of the airport to Louisville, which renamed its airport after Muhammad Ali in January 2019.
“That got so much international coverage for free, that this is a progressive city honoring Muhammad Ali,” Glaser said.
Glaser ran the idea by a number of Black leaders, including Douglass’s great-great-great-grandson Kenneth Morris. Morris was immediately on board with the idea.
“I think it’s a great idea any time there’s an opportunity to lift up the life, legacy, and work of my great ancestor,” said Morris, who is co-founder and president of the Rochester-based Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives. “I can’t think of a better way to honor him in Rochester then by naming the airport after him.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.