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Rochester all set to celebrate the 199th birthday of Frederick Douglass

Feb 13, 2017

Frederick Douglass has been trending in the media lately, but not in response to his significant contributions to human rights, or his antislavery oratory.

President Donald Trump’s comments at a recent Black History event about how Douglass has “done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more” caused an uproar online, with many speculating about whether Trump was truly aware of whom the legend was.

A group of women representing local organizations have formed the #ROC Douglass Consortium, and are teaming up to bring awareness on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, marking Douglass’ 199th birthday. 

Credit NPR.ORG

“Our immediate goal is to increase the visibility and significance of Frederick Douglass,” said Rachel DeGuzman, president and CEO of 21st Century Arts, and one third of the Consortium.

DeGuzman and local artist Amanda Chestnut, along with Mara Ahmed of Neelum Films are hosting a free community event at his grave site in Mount Hope Cemetery.

It’s likely that Douglass doesn’t actually share his birthday with Valentine’s Day; however, the former slave chose to celebrate his life on that day. DeGuzman said he wrote about how common it was for slaves birthdays to be considered inconsequential.

“That’s a sobering reminder of the nature of slavery, that he didn’t know when he was born. The slaves, in general, didn’t know the year or the date,” DeGuzman said.

Invited guests, including local educator Banke Awopetu-McCullough, and Thomas Warfield of RIT, will take part in Tuesday’s presentation, and Frederick Douglass quotes will be written on cards that attendees can recite on stage to pay tribute.

If he was referring to our awareness of Douglass’ important historical legacy, then President Trump’s remarks were on the money. More than 120 years after Douglass’ death, the great abolitionist’s impact on our country is still unfolding. He speaks to us still through his prolific writings, and his legacy is ensured by his solid place in the history books and the images that he seemed determined to leave behind.

When Douglass escaped slavery in Maryland, he moved to Rochester where he embarked on a career as a newspaper publisher.

“The fact that he is not broadly known as one of the most significant historical figures in the history of our country, and maybe the world, is a shame,” DeGuzman said.

The event at Mount Hope Cemetery will take place from 11:45 a.m to 1:15 p.m.