Frederick Douglass statue replaced at Maplewood Park after vandalism


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Community members came together Thursday to replace a Frederick Douglass statue that was recently vandalized at Maplewood Park.

The statue of the abolitionist was ripped from its base in Rochester on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” delivered in the city on July 5, 1852.

Police said the statue of Douglass was taken that Sunday from Maplewood Park — specifically Kelsey’s Landing, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglas and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom.

MORE | Frederick Douglass family on statue vandalism: ‘Clear signal to make change now’

The statue, created by artist, sculptor and RIT faculty member Olivia Kim, was later found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet from its pedestal, police said. There was damage to the base and a finger.

The new statue, placed in the same place Thursday morning, is a replacement and not a repaired version. Kim was there Thursday morning to unveil it.

“We don’t know who the people are that removed the sculpture that was here so my personal reaction was one of sadness because, my goodness, it had to happen again? But I really thought more for the larger community that it is very important that we focus on the love that went into these sculptures,” she said.

“From time to time communities have opportunities to advance the ideas of fairness, goodness and collective responsibility to make a difference in the lives of all of its citizens,” Project Director Carvin Eison said in a statement. “But too often those opportunities slip away and they do nothing. However here in Rochester, when our community faces its challenges, we do everything we can to make a difference for everyone. As we return this monument to its home in Kelsey’s Landing, we again affirm the values and principles Mr. Douglass stood for throughout his life. With every generation, here in our community, those values grow stronger.”

The statue was one of 13 placed throughout the city in 2018, as part of a citywide, yearlong celebration of Douglass’ 200th birthday, and this is the second monument to be vandalized.

Back then, police determined two drunk college students were behind the mischief. Police continue to investigate the incident this time around, but there has been no word from officials regarding possible suspects or a motivation at this time. President Donald Trump blamed “anarchists.”

MORE | President Trump on Frederick Douglass statue vandalism: ‘Anarchists have no bounds’

One of those college students, John Boedicker, reached out and offered help after he heard of the most recent vandalism of another Douglass statue at Maplewood Park.

“Compared to this most recent incident at least we were able to take the fall and learn from it and grow and move on and  become adults after it whereas we don’t have that clarity with this situation,” Boedicker said.

The other student involved in the past statue vandalism, Charles Milks, also reached out to help this time around.

“I want to be a part of the rebuilding or any steps that are to be taken in response. I don’t want to be silent on this because Frederick’s message became a part of me after I did what I did. Now more than every I would like to convey that,” Milks wrote to Eison.

MORE | Students behind past Douglass statue damage offer help in recent case 

“The person I am today in regards to what I was and what I had to do to just become a better person from that, I am grateful, as weird as that can be interpreted,” Boedicker said.

Several community leaders helped guide the two through thoughtful discussion and a tour of Douglass statues around Rochester.

“Douglass had the tough part in his life where he probably saw that the life that he would have hoped for himself he probably wasn’t going to see in his lifetime because of how society was back then,” Boedicker said. “I would just say he had the most hope of anybody and it really pushed him through his whole life.”

Adam Interviews John Boedicker

Fundraising campain

Eison shared that number of offers of help have poured in from across the country in response to this recent act of vandalism. Eison said a new fundraising campaign will kick off with a gift of $10,000 from John Lipman, MD, Founder & Medical Director of the Atlanta Fibroid Center.

“While I make my permanent home in Atlanta, I grew up in the same neighborhood in Rochester as Frederick Douglass,” Dr. Lipman said in a press release. “I was heartbroken to hear that vandals had destroyed his statue. His statue symbolizes racial equality and human rights very similar to Atlanta icon Martin Luther King, Jr. It was important to me that this iconic symbol was restored as quickly as possible.”

Funds collected will be used for three purposes:

  1. To create a new statue
  2. To create a fund to refurbish the existing statues, which may need repainting/refinishing and
  3. To create a maintenance/repair fund for minor (non-vandalism) repairs which have been needed from time to time.

To give, visit the RCTV website, where you will find a link to the Friends of Frederick Douglass GoFundMe campaign.

Support from local officials

“A critical mass of communities across the world is rightfully continuing our call for an end to the evils of racism, and the words and wisdom of Frederick Douglass are showing us how to answer that call,” said Mayor Lovely A. Warren. “I am proud to live in the city of Frederick Douglass, where so many of our citizens have strived to ensure his connection to Rochester and the ideals he championed would never be forgotten. Thanks to the work of the Re-Energizing the Legacy of Douglass Project, the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives and so many others, Rochester continues to be the place from where Douglass’ powerful message of freedom and justice is being broadcast across the world.” 

County Executive Adam Bello said, “The principles of civil and political equality that Frederick Douglass fought for are an integral part of our community. In Rochester and Monroe County, we are guided by his legacy as we strive to become a more fair, more just and more equitable society. Echoes of Mr. Douglass’ voice continue to call upon us to fulfill the promise of our nation’s founding tenet that all individuals are created equal and all deserve equal treatment under the law. The vandalism that destroyed the Douglass monument in Maplewood Park did not diminish that call. I am glad to see a monument to Mr. Douglass returned to the park, where it will again serve as proof that we are committed to living up to the values he stood for.”

“Rochester is stronger because of the legacy of Frederick Douglass. I am pleased to see Douglass’ statue home again at Kelsey’s Landing here in Maplewood Park where freedom took shape for so many who traveled the Underground Railroad. As we face injustice today, we must hold steadfast in our commitment to equity and justice as we continue the work of Frederick Douglass,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson.

Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story

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