Frederick Douglass Takes His Rightful Place On Capitol Hill

Frederick Douglas Statue Unveiled
The unveiling of the Frederick Douglas statue

AFRICANGLOBE – Frederick Douglass, the enslaved African-American turned abolitionist, believed in freedom and equality for “all of us”, his great-great-granddaughter said Wednesday at the unveiling of a statue of Frederick Douglass in the Capitol.

The descendant, Nettie Washington Douglass, spoke beneath the bronze statue of Frederick Douglass in Emancipation Hall on the day known as Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, before a crowd of 600 visitors that included Congressional leaders, relatives, current and former city officials, rights activists and historians.

Ms. Douglass’s nod to her ancestor’s support of equality came as the Supreme Court, in chambers just across the street, was preparing to decide cases involving affirmative action and voting rights.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. joined Ms. Douglass and other leaders in hailing Douglass’s rise from slavery to prominence as a writer and orator who helped pioneer the abolitionist movement. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Douglass was the “consummate self-made man,” while Mr. Biden said he was “one of my favorite Republicans.”

“He was born in horrific circumstances sanctioned by the laws passed in this very building,” Mr. Biden said. “But instead of condemning the nation who made him a slave, he embraced the sustaining principles and used them as a sword to try to free others.” He fought, Mr. Biden added, to make “this Capitol, this country” live up to “those ennobling words in the Constitution.”

Frederick Douglass is one of four African-Americans who have been honored with a statue or a bust in the Capitol. The others are the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth.

The statue of Frederick Douglass stands seven feet tall and depicts him in his 50s, leaning against a lectern while giving a speech. It is a gift from the residents of the District of Columbia, presented after Congress passed a law in September to allow the district to be represented among the 50 states in the Capitol’s collection of statues.

Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot, Md., sometime around February 1818. After teaching himself to read, he escaped at age 20 and fled to New York, where he founded the abolitionist newspaper The North Star and advocated women’s suffrage.

In 1845, he wrote a memoir, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave,” which became a best seller and an influential abolitionist text. He spent the last 23 years of his life in Washington, where he died at age 77. He was buried in Rochester, where he lived for 25 years.

During his time in Washington, Douglass pressed President Abraham Lincoln to end slavery and endorse voting rights for Black Americans. Lincoln and two other Republican presidents appointed him to political positions. He also pushed for self-governance and voting rights for the residents of Washington.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is Washington’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, has taken up that mantle, repeatedly introducing legislation in Congress that would grant statehood to Washington.

“Some may know of my strongly held views that D.C. residents must enjoy equal Congressional, voting and self-government rights with other Americans,” she told the crowd. “I must defer, however, to Mr. Douglass, whose fervor on this issue is unmatched by any I know or have heard on the subject.”

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, has thrown his weight behind the latest effort. He announced that on Tuesday he had signed on as a sponsor of legislation that would grant statehood to Washington.

 

By: Ashley Southall