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

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The family of Frederick Douglass released a statement Monday regarding the destruction of a Douglass statue in Rochester over the holiday weekend.

Full statement from Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives:

“There has been a broad array of comments responding to this act of vandalism,” said Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and Co-Founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI) “The President suggested it was ‘Anarchists,’ who perpetrated this, the House minority leader believes it was ‘mobs,’ a US Representative from New York attributed the scheme to ‘Marxist organizing,’ others think it may be retaliation for the removal of Confederate statues. One prominent former governor said that this was ‘a great example of the horrific state of affairs in history education in America.’

“They could all be right or, perhaps, as was the previous case of Douglass statue vandalism in December of 2018, two young men had too much to drink during a night out and felt the need to test their strength on an object they believed to be inanimate. While the Douglass statues are indeed inanimate, they are a critical reminder of a legacy that is very much alive today. In fact, the reactions from elected officials, laden with emotion and evocative language, are proof of Douglass’s relevance and the need for forthright discussion about dismantling policies and systems of racism that are still toxic 125 years after his death. Whatever the reason for destroying the Douglass statue, it is a clear signal regarding the urgency to make change now.”

As news of the latest Frederick Douglass statue vandalism emerged, John Boedicker, one of the Rochester men who admitted and made amends for the December 2018 incident through a process of restorative justice, is joining the struggle.

“It is truly aggravating for me and saddens my heart, especially in times like this where it looks like positive change is right around the corner given the progress of Black Lives Matter across the world. 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 ever, I would like to convey that.”

“John Boedicker,” Mr. Morris concluded, “is testimony that every American can use his or her voice at this moment to stand up for what’s right.”

Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives is an Abolitionist and AntiRacist organization co-founded by direct descendants of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Its mission is To build strong children and to end systems of exploitation and oppression. From their headquarters in Rochester, NY, FDFI is working to end racial inequity. They have been a national leader in implementing human trafficking prevention education curricula in classrooms nationally since 2007.”

The statue of the abolitionist was ripped from its base in Rochester Sunday, on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered in the city in 1852.

Police said the statue of Douglass was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglas and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom.

The statue was 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 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.

MORE | Replacement installed after college students rip down Frederick Douglass statue

In Rochester on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave the speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” in which he 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.”

MORE | Frederick Douglass statue vandalized on anniversary of ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July’ speech

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren criticized President Donald Trump Monday in response to a tweet regarding the vandalized Frederick Douglass statue.

Earlier Monday, the president chimed in about the vandalized Douglass Statue at Maplewood Park, saying “anarchists have no bounds!” Mayor Warren responded a few hours later with:

“Despite knowing their flaws, Douglass said of our founders: ‘They loved their country better than their own private interests.’ We wish you would do the same by providing funding for our cities, uniting us instead of dividing us, and encouraging masks to stop COVID.”

MORE | Mayor Warren criticizes President Trump in response to Frederick Douglass statue tweet

President Trump wasn’t the only national figure to chime in on the vandalism. His son, Donald Trump Jr., wrote wrote: “Disgusting! We should all realize this movement is about promoting Marxism not stopping racism. They’re not going to stop folks.”

Other national leaders commenting on the incident included House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyformer Florida Governor Jeb BushRep. Lee Zeldin, and more.

Local leaders involved in the monuments creation believe that current national focus on race could have played a role in this.

“What comes of this? Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing its beyond disappointing,” said Carvin Eison, Project director, re-energize the legacy of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commemoration.

Maplewood Park was picked for the monument because of the link to the Underground Railroad.

“I feel to put a monument back here immediately so who ever did this know that we are not going to be deterred from what our objective is and our objective is to continually celebrate Frederick Douglass,” said Eison. “They can topple over this monument, they could go topple over all of them, this monument will still stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument.”

At this time police say there are no suspects or known motive, but they add the investigation is ongoing.

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