FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 21, 2012
SCHUMER INTRODUCES A BILL TO FINALLY DELIVER STATUE OF ROCHESTER’S OWN GREAT AMERICAN CIVIL RIGHTS HERO, FREDERICK DOUGLASS, TO U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING – AFTER FIVE YEARS OF LEGISLATIVE STALEMATE
Schumer’s Historic Resolution Would Direct Congress To Accept D.C.’s Douglass Statue – Completed In 2007 – To Reside In The Capitol And Immortalize A Hero From Rochester
Only Two Out Of More Than 180 Sculptures Of Prominent Americans In The Capitol Are African American
Schumer: After A Long Struggle, This Bill Marks Progress For National Hero and Rochester Son
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer introduced a concurrent resolution that would direct the Joint Committee on the Library to finally accept a statue of abolitionist hero Frederick Douglass for prominent display in the U.S. Capitol Building. Schumer’s resolution would cut through legislative red tape that has left the statue of Douglass, completed by sculptor Steven Weitzman in 2007, in a D.C. government building a few blocks away from the Capitol.
Currently, only two out of more than 180 statues and busts of prominent American figures on display in the Capitol portray African Americans. Schumer’s bill pushes Congress to finally take action and accept this statue of Douglass to the Capitol. The statue depicts a standing Douglass on a pedestal engraved with a quote from a speech he delivered in Canandaigua, NY in 1857 that reads: “Without struggle, there is no progress.”
“It’s inexcusable to let a statue of one of the greatest heroes in the history of our nation, and a proud resident of Rochester, collect cobwebs in a city government building less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol where it belongs,” said Schumer. “155 years ago, Frederick Douglas famously said in Canandaigua, NY that, ‘Without struggle, there is no progress.’ After five years of inexcusable legislative struggle, Congress must forge ahead to make progress in celebrating the legacy of a brave man who helped to shape our nation as the land of the free. Frederick Douglass fought his entire life, especially during the 25 years when he lived and worked in Rochester, to promote equality for African Americans and women. I will not let Congress wait to accept into the U.S. Capitol this long-ago completed statue of Douglass, emblazoned with his timeless words first heard in 1857 by Western New Yorkers in Canandaigua, NY. This is more than a statue of a great American; this is a message that our government celebrates Douglass’s legacy of always striving to fight on the side of equal rights.”
Schumer’s concurrent resolution directs the Joint Committee on the Library to accept Weitzman’s statue of Douglass for placement in the U.S. Capitol and details Douglass’s accomplishments as a civil rights leader in Rochester, NY. Schumer is Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, which oversees artwork and statuary in the Capitol. Once Congress passes the concurrent resolution, Schumer said he would work to expedite transfer of the statute.
Born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Maryland in 1818, Douglass escaped from slavery at around age 20 and lived in Massachusetts, Ireland and Britain before settling for 25 years in Rochester. While in Rochester, Douglass published and edited “The North Star,” the most prominent African-American newspaper in the country. This groundbreaking periodical, in addition to his speeches and the acclaim of his bestselling autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” contributed to the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, also known as the Reconstruction Amendments, which marked major victories for civil rights in America between 1865 and 1870.
Schumer highlights in the bill that Frederick Douglass was a leading voice for women’s rights and the emancipation of slaves in Upstate New York and that his message of equality resonated throughout the country. One of Douglass’s most poignant axioms that came during his “West India Emancipation” speech in Canandaigua, NY on August 3, 1857 is engraved at the base of Weitzman’s statue: “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Schumer believes these timeless words deserve to be viewed by the millions of tourists who visit the U.S. Capitol Building each year.
Schumer also notes in the bill that Douglass not only delivered eloquent and timely speeches during his 25 years in Upstate New York, but he also converted his words into action. Douglass was a leader in the Underground Railroad in Rochester and Western New York, important hubs for escaped slaves due to their proximity to Canada. During the Seneca Falls Convention, an historic gathering near Geneva, NY to promote women’s rights in 1848, Douglass participated as the only African American and one of only 37 men out of 300 attendees. Douglass’s presence at the convention in Seneca Falls displayed his belief that the women’s rights movement and that of emancipation went hand-in-hand.
Frederick Douglass lived in Rochester from 1847 until 1872. He purchased his first home in Rochester at 4 Alexander Street near the corner of East Avenue in April of 1848. The two-story brick house of nine rooms stood on a city lot in a neighborhood. He once wrote to a friend about Rochester: “I shall always feel more at home there than anywhere else in the country.” Douglass returned to D.C. in 1872 after a fire engulfed his Rochester home. He was buried at Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery in 1895.
The two African-Americans currently depicted in the U.S. Capitol include Sojourner Truth in Emancipation Hall and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Rotunda. Congress has also authorized the creation of a statue of African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, and it is expected to be added to the collection in the Capitol later this year.