A statue of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass was ripped from its base on Sunday (July 5) in Rochester, New York. The vandalism fell on the 168th anniversary of Douglass’ iconic Fourth of July speech “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” which he gave in Rochester in 1852.
Erected in Maplewood Park in 2018, the site of the statue also runs along the historic Underground Railroad, where Douglass and Harriet Tubman once helped shuttle escaped slaves to freedom. According to police, the statue was found roughly 50 feet from its base at the brink of the Genesee River gorge. Authorities also say that the statue’s base and a finger were damaged by unidentified vandals.
“It’s particularly painful that it happened at this time,” Carvin Eison — who was a leader in the project that brought Douglass’ monument to Rochester — told the Democrat & Chronicle.
Speaking with the newspaper, Eison contrasted the vandalism of Douglass’ statue with the current removal of Confederate monuments around the country. Several statues and images that represent slavery and the oppression of African Americans, including the Confederate flag, have been torn down in recent weeks amidst anti-police brutality protests.
“It’s really sad because here in Rochester the statue of Frederick Douglass has always been a face of good,” Eison said.
Last week, five of the abolitionist’s descendants got together to honor his famous 1852 speech, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?” In a video shared by NPR, Douglass’ family members took turns reading the lines of his address.
“Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice embodied in that Declaration of Independence extended to us?” 20-year-old Douglass Washington Morris II read in the clip.
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim,” the group of five read together. “To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery.”
According to Eison, the Rochester statue of Douglass will be replaced.