A statue of the slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass was recently unveiled in the Capital. In attendance was his great-great-granddaughter, Nettie Washington Douglass, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Eleanor Holmes Norton as well as other congressional leaders, city officials, rights activists and historians. The bronze statue, located in Emancipation Hall, debuted on Juneteenth (or Emancipation Day), before a crowd of 600 attendees.
The statue of Douglass, which stands seven feet tall and depicts him in his 50s, was a gift from the residents of the District of Columbia. It was presented following a law passed by Congress in September to allow the district to be represented among the 50 states in the Capital’s collection of statues.
Born into slavery in Talbot, Md., sometime around February 1818, Douglass taught himself to read and he escaped when he was 20 years old. He fled to New York and started the abolitionist newspaper, The North Star. He also advocated for women’s suffrage. His memoir, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” was written in 1845 and was a best seller. It was in Washington that he spent the last 23 years of his life. While in Washington, he urged President Abraham Lincoln to bring an end to slavery and to support voting rights for Black Americans. He became politically powerful as Lincoln and two other Republican presidents appointed him to positions. Douglass died at age 77 and was buried in Rochester, where he resided for 25 years.
“We hope the statue makes people want to learn more about the life and accomplishments of Frederick Douglass. Of course, Douglass’ time as a slave, leadership role in the abolitionist movement and his writings all lead toward what we hope will be a more in-depth analysis of slavery on the part of all Americans,” says Robert J. Benz, founder and executive vice president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives.
There are only three other African Americans who have been honored with a statue in the Capital: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.
“We wanted the Douglass statute for the same reason we want to memorialize many of our great leaders like Lincoln, Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.–because we want to frame their ideas and actions for future generations to see. Douglass was that kind of hero,” says Benz. “His story should be told more often.”