Frederick Douglass statue torn from base on anniversary of famous speech

Statue of Frederick Douglass torn from base on anniversary of famous speech

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Police in New York are investigating after finding a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass ripped from its base Sunday in Rochester on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches.

Authorities found the statue leaning against a fence by the Genesee River gorge, about 50 feet from its pedestal in Maplewood Park, police said in a statement obtained by the Democrat and Chronicle. The base of the statue and a finger on its left hand were damaged in the incident, according to the newspaper. WROC reported that pieces of plaster could be seen piled by the fence.

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The statue was one of 13 erected in 2017 around Rochester to honor Douglass, according to WROC. The statue damaged Sunday was placed in Maplewood Park because it was a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglass and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom decades ago.

“It’s particularly painful that it happened at this time,” Carvin Eison, project director for the group Re-energize the Legacy of Frederick Douglass, told the Democrat and Chronicle.

Authorities said the vandalism occurred Sunday on the 168th anniversary of Douglass’ speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” The speech was delivered on July 5, 1852 to the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society in at Rochester’s Corinthian Hall, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. In it, Douglass called the celebration of liberty a sham in a nation that enslaves and oppresses its Black citizens.

To a slave, Douglass said, Independence Day is “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

Eison told the Democrat and Chronicle that the statue was too damaged Sunday to fix. Instead, officials are expected to replace the statue.

“Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over Confederate monuments right now?” Eison said during an interview with WROC, calling the vandalism “beyond disappointing.”

"They can topple over this monument -- they could go topple over all of them -- this monument will stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument," he said.

Police are investigating the incident.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.