ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Activists in the Rochester community are getting the word out about Austin Steward, a historic figure who predates Frederick Douglass.

Steward escaped slavery in the early 1800s. Activists say he was the first recognized, renowned Black business owner of the time.

Organizers held an event Tuesday to celebrate the day at the Thurston Road YMCA, where there were Black-owned business vendors, theatrical monologues, and more.

One of the organizers we spoke with tonight says Frederick Douglass gets a lot of credit around Rochester, but recognizing other contributors to Rochester’s history is important too.

“Because society and community is varied,” said Diallo Payne with the Community Justice Initiative. “We want to be able to be inspired in as many ways as possible, have the greatest ideas available to us to help us out, to help us learn, to help us grow, to help us deal with some of the issues that are still kind of common to people today.”

“We hope doing these events is sparking talk in the classroom, getting these names in the classroom, into young minds, here in Rochester we have these freedom fighters,” said Tatiana Welch, with Community Justice Initiative.

Payne says Austin Stewart set up his own meat market on East Main Street, while advocating for civil rights, voting rights and Black entrepreneurship.