On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass gave his famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” in Rochester, New York. But 168 years later on the date that marked the speech’s anniversary, Douglass’ statue was destroyed in that very same town yesterday, the Associated Press reports.
Law enforcement told the AP that the statue was taken from Maplewood Park, designated as a National Underground Railroad Network (Network to Freedom) site by the National Park Service in 2017, which Douglass had used to help usher people to freedom. Police said they found the statue at the Genesee River gorge, about 50 feet from its pedestal. The Rochester community has long honored Douglass and made history when they erected the first statue of him in 1920, making it the first time a Black person was memorialized with a statue in the United States.
“What comes of this? Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now?” Carvin Eison, project director of Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass, asked WROC. “Very disappointing; it’s beyond disappointing.” Eison’s group was reportedly responsible for getting the statue, one of 13, placed in the city.
And Eison might be onto something, as Baltimore demonstrators roped, pulled down and then dumped a Christopher Columbus statue (not a Confederate, but to many a mass murderer) into the city’s Inner Harbor the night before Douglass’ was vandalized, the Baltimore Sun reported on July 4.
In response to the toppling, the city said it had its residents’ backs. “We understand the dynamics that are playing out in Baltimore are part of a national narrative,” Lester Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore’s Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young told the Sun. “We understand the frustrations. What the city wants to do is serve as a national model, particularly with how we’ve done with protesting. We’ve seen people who have taken to the streets, we have supported them. We are going to continue to support it. That’s a full stop.”
Baltimore wasn’t the first city to turn to Columbus’ statue during these intense weeks of protests. According to ABC News, protestors have also brought down the Columbus statue in Boston, Miami, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Richmond, Virginia.