WXXI AM News

Police investigate damage to a Frederick Douglass statue in Maplewood Park

Jul 5, 2020

photo of the pedestal where the Frederick Douglass statue had stood in Maplewood Park.
Credit Spectrum News

Rochester Police are investigating damage done to a statue of Frederick Douglass in Maplewood Park. It happened over the weekend, and police say that the statue was torn off its base, and left about 50 feet from its pedestal. The statue had been placed over the fence to Genesee River gorge and was leaning against the fence.

Police say in addition to the damage at the bottom of the statue, one of the fingers on the left hand of the statue was damaged. Aside from that damage, there was no graffiti on the statue or in the surrounding park. The statue has been removed for repairs.

But Carvin Eison, who helped lead the project to have the Frederick Douglass statues placed around the city said on Monday that he's confident that a bronze version of the monument can be built to replace the fiberglass statue that was vandalized in Maplewood Park.

Eison, who is Director of the Re-energize the Legacy of Frederick Douglass project, said it’s his understanding the statue that was vandalized, can’t be repaired. But he said this statue deserves to be rebuilt.

``We're going to try to rally the community for a bronze one, because these fiberglass ones are being desecrated and destroyed."

Eison says the values that Douglass represented and the values that are the underpinning of the Rochester community cannot be diminished by the destruction of a single monument.

The incident happened on the same weekend that some local and national organizations have marked the 168th anniversary the speech the famed abolitionist delivered on July 5, 1882, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,”  which asks all Americans to consider the country's long history of denying equal rights to Black people.

That speech was delivered at Corinthian Hall in Rochester. Douglass had lived in the city for a number of years and is buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Among the local events this past weekend was one on Saturday organized by the ROC Freedom Riders, a group of cyclists honoring the struggle for Black Americans’ freedom. Their event included a stop where Douglass had delivered his speech about the July 4 holiday.

The statue that was damaged this weekend is one of 13 Douglass statues that were placed around Rochester in 2018 in honor of his 200th birthday.

In that first year, two St. John Fisher students were charged with damaging one of the other statues, at Tracy and Alexander Streets.

The Maplewood Park location’s significance is tied to Kelsey’s Landing at that site, a departure point for slaves seeking freedom through the Underground Railroad.

President Donald Trump tweeted about the Douglass statue vandalism on Twitter:

Rochester Police have not yet identified any suspects in their criminal mischief investigation, and WXXI News is not aware of any individuals or groups claiming responsibility so far.

On Monday afternoon, a statement from descendants of Frederick Douglass was issued, and Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Douglass and co-founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives said that, “whatever the reason for destroying the Douglass statue, it is a clear signal regarding the urgency to make change now.”

Morris said that John Boedicker, one of the men who he said admitted and made amends for the 2018 vandalism involving a different Douglass statue in Rochester, is “joining the struggle.”

He released a statement from Boedicker which said the incident last weekend “saddens my heart,” and he said that he didn’t want to be silent “because Frederick’s message became a part of me after I did what I did.”

Morris said that Boedicker’s statement shows that “every American can use his or her voice at this moment to stand up for what’s right.”