Douglass center in NY up but not running

Passers-by frequently peer into the window at the new center honoring former slave, famed orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. And if they knock on the door, they can get a quick tour guided by the Rev. Errol Hunt and his son Gerry.

After decades of failed efforts, the latest venture to create a cultural hub honoring Douglass in the city where he spent his most influential years is close to fruition. All it needs is staff ? at least five people to complement the Hunts’ nonprofit efforts and run the new resource.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony drew a big crowd to the Frederick Douglass Resource Center over the Fourth of July weekend. The main gallery is adorned with 19th-century photographs, maps and handwritten letters. Down the hall, there’s a 130-seat theater, computer lab and library devoted to exploring the life and legacy of the anti-slavery crusader.

Remodeling the former metalwork shop a minute’s walk from suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s Victorian home ate up $1.2 million in government grants. Now, not enough money remains to hire staff to officially open.

“Given what he has done for the world, there should have been something here a long time ago,” said Rev. Hunt. “Construction’s all done. Now it’s the responsibility of the community to let us know whether or not they’re going to support it.”

Beyond the hurdle of getting up and running, the center will need to raise at least $450,000 a year through entrance fees and grants, said Gerry Hunt, the center’s executive director.

“We’re trying to build an institution whereby those who come after us will have a place to come and learn about African-American history but also be inspired to continue to do the work,” he said.

The Hunts hope to have the center open and fully operational by the fall, when school children could tour the exhibits for free.

Douglass spent 25 years in Rochester, publishing The North Star journal. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1872 but was buried in Rochester in Mount Hope Cemetery when he died in 1895. A public statute of Douglass was erected in the city, the first in the nation to honor a black American.

The center sits across from a neighborhood green dominated by a bronze sculpture of Douglass and Anthony conversing over a pot of tea.

“I hope that this works out well because it certainly is needed,” said Jean Czerkas, a local historian who in 2003 discovered the long-forgotten grave of Douglass’ daughter, Rosetta, at the Mount Hope Cemetery. “He helped put an end of slavery, which was a curse in this country. Not to have something here beside two statues, it’s just sad.”


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Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.