IN what may have been a quid pro quo move in response to the toppling of memorials to people associated with slavery, a statue of the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass has been torn from its pedestal in Maplewood Park in Rochester, New York state.

The statue is one of many erected to Douglass to mark the route of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses, that he and fellow abolitionists used in their campaign to carry slaves to freedom.

Local police said the statue was torn from its base, and carried 50ft to lie on the fence over Genesee River gorge. Damage to the base and the hands of the statue meant it could be immediately replaced but the group who organised the erection of the statue in 2018 pledged it would return.

Carvin Eisen, one of those behind the project, told CBS news: “Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over Confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it’s beyond disappointing. I feel we should put a monument back here immediately so whoever did this knows we are not going to be deterred from what our objective is, and that’s to celebrate Frederick Douglass.”


FREDERICK Augustus Washington Bailey was born in 1818 to a slave mother and white father on a plantation in Maryland. His exact birthdate is unknown but he chose to celebrate it on February 14 as his mother called him her “little Valentine”.

His mother and he were forcibly separated. He hardly knew her and she died when he was seven. He was given to a kindly white woman, Lucretia Auld, who ensured he was looked after, although other members of the family refused to educate him.

Self-educated, Douglass taught other slaves but was beaten by his master for doing so. He was treated so badly that he eventually escaped and travelled to New York where he married Anna Murray, a free black woman who had helped his escape.

Encouraged to join the anti-slavery movement, Douglass wrote his memoirs of slavery and was soon a powerful speaker for the abolitionist cause.

After a visit to Ireland, England and Scotland he returned with his freedom bought and enough money to found his own newspaper.

He remained a journalist, editor and author for the rest of his life, campaigning for the abolition of slavery and the rights of women.


INDEED he did. He despised his slave name and changed it to Douglass after a character in Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake. When he came to Britain in 1846 he embarked on speaking tours that took him all over Scotland, and he quoted Burns and Scott to great effect.

He was particularly taken with Edinburgh, saying: “It is the capital of Scotland and is justly regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

I never saw one with which for beauty elegance and grandeur to compare it.”

Douglass was also amazed at the fact Scots treated him with civility and he was able to talk to leading members of society with ease.

His powerful oratory was directed at one time against the nascent Free Church of Scotland for taking donations from American slavers, and he is generally credited with giving the abolitionist movement outside the USA a massive boost.


HE lived in the city for a good part of his working life and was buried there after his death in 1895.

In 1899, a bronze statue of Douglass was erected in Rochester. It stands more than 25ft high at the intersection of Robinson Drive and South Avenue. Designed by Stanley Edwards, it was one of the first monuments erected in the country to celebrate an African American.

The statue which was toppled was one of 12 replicas installed in 2018 to mark the 200th anniversary of Douglass’s birth.

His most famous speech was given in the city on July 5, 1852, hence why his statue was toppled on that date. He was speaking to mark Independence Day and asked an audience in Rochester’s Corinthian Hall “what to the slave is the Fourth of July?”.

The famous speech continued: “Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

“I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary. Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us.”


SPARKED by the death in police custody of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, statues of Confederate leaders have been toppled across the US.

Calls have also been growing for authorities to take down statues and monuments connected to slavery and colonialism.

President Donald Trump has condemned such actions and to be fair he also condemned the toppling of Frederick Douglass, tweeting: “This shows that these anarchists have no bounds!”

Yet he also tweeted a link to right-wing website Breitbart which suggested there may be no motive for the vandalism in Rochester.

The jury’s out on that one.