Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY

The Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY’s Highland Park celebrates one of my hometown’s two greatest civil rights luminaries. The other is Susan B. Anthony. Their names also grace the two concourses of the Rochester airport and a bridge in downtown Rochester (affectionately dubbed the Freddie-Sue bridge by locals).

Author Jeanne Gehret visiting the Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, NY

Douglass statue is as imposing as the man

Douglass (1817-1895) himself stood more than six feet tall and weighed at least two hundred pounds. His reputation as a formerly enslaved person, self-educated publisher, civil rights orator and statesman made him a man to look up to. Thus it is fitting that his eight-foot statue sits on a nine-foot granite base. (In the above photo, I am standing about ten feet away from the statue.)

Erected in 1899, the monument originally stood outside Rochester’s New York Central Train Station. At the time of its dedication, Susan B. Anthony commented that it should have been facing north, owing perhaps to Douglass’s Rochester newspaper The North Star. Two subsequent moves brought it within the confines of Highland Park, just a few hundred feet from where the African-American leader lived during his early reform years. Susan would be happy to know that the statue now faces northeast.

Of Rochester, Douglass later wrote:

I know of no place in the Union where I could have located at the time with less resistance, or received a larger measure of sympathy and cooperation, and I now look back to my life and labors there with unalloyed satisfaction . . . having spent a quarter century among its people.

Rose O’Keefe, Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester, New York, p. 45

Douglass, in making this comment, graciously overlooked the fact that Rochester’s Board of Education in 1845 closed city schools to African-American students. Later, a neighbor who had sold a plot of land to Douglass voted against allowing young Rosetta Douglass access to a local girls’ school.

In a similar hopeful vein, he commented thus on the 1857 Dred Scott Decision that denied African-Americans citizenship:

I know of no soil better adapted to the growth of reform than American soil. I know of no country, where the conditions for effecting great changes in the settled order of things for the development of right ideas of liberty and humanity are more favorable than here in these United States.

Engraved on the frederick douglass monument in rochester’s highland park

Colleagues in Rochester and beyond

Three years older than Susan, Douglass preceded her into reforms seeking gender and racial equality. While he was starting his North Star newspaper, she was teaching school to help her family recover from bankruptcy. She met him for the first time at her parents’ dinner table where it was customary for the Douglass and Anthony families to dine together with other reformers on Sundays. Once she entered the fray, the two of them often spoke on the same lecture circuits and sometimes the same platforms. Eventually, she became the head of the Antislavery Society of New York.

One More River to Cross at Underground Railroad Heritage Area

 

When fleeing slaves from the southern U.S. reached Niagara Falls, they knew they had one more river to cross. But what a river it was with its roiling cataract. The new Underground Railroad Heritage Area in Niagara Falls, NY. chronicles some of the notable African-Americans who escaped across the river and helped others to make their way to freedom.

Recently I had the privilege of touring the new museum. For those unfamiliar with the term, “Underground Railroad” refers to a series of places where escaping slaves could receive shelter and assistance after leaving the South. Following the North Star, they headed for the northern U.S., where slavery was outlawed.

However, after the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, bounty hunters could recapture slaves in the north and return them to bondage. For this reason, it was far better for these fugitives to go all the way to Canada. When they reached Niagara Falls, they had one more river to cross.

Anthony Involvement in the Underground Railraoad

The Anthony family approved of this civil disobedience of helping slaves escape. They hosted many antislavery dinners at their farm home in Rochester, and three of their children (Susan, D.R., and Merritt) campaigned against slavery with speeches, petition campaigns, and physical warfare. Among the family’s closest friends were Undergound Railroad “conductors” (owners of safe houses) Amy and Isaac Post and Frederick Douglass.

Active or Passive Escapees?

Sometimes conductors used the code word “parcel” for a fugitive needing assistance. This term erroneously suggests that freedom seekers were passive goods carried away from slavery by other (usually white) people’s initiatives. The term gives little credit to the courage and intelligence exhibited by fleeing slaves themselves. (I strove for the correct balance in The Truth About Daniel, when I wrote about the escape of Randall Burton on Martha’s Vineyard.)

The Underground Railroad Heritage Area tips the racial balance by showing black abolitionists at work, united in the effort to help freedom seekers cross their last barrier  to freedom, the Niagara River.. A daring feat, to say the least. More next time.

 

 

Nov. 26, 1862 Death of Susan B. Anthony’s father

One day in early November 1862, Susan B. Anthony and her father Daniel were reading and discussing antislavery newspapers when he suddenly began suffering acute pain in Continue reading

All for Suffrage, Part 1

Susan B. Anthony’s family members were all for women’s suffrage, each in his or her own way. Some supported voting rights by actually casting ballots, while others supported campaigns for African-Americans and women to vote. Susan had a strong support system for her reform work.

Continue reading

Agitators Prevailed

The story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass packed a full house tonight, the opening of “The Agitators.” Rochester’s famous reformers really showed their mettle at this fine play at GEVA Theater. Actors Madeleine Lambert and Cedric Mays delivered the pair’s famous arguments with conviction and humor against a massive timeline that resembled the double arches of the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge in Rochester.

“Agitation is the spark of all change”

This is one of my favorite quotes from the play, and served as the theme to portray the lifelong friendship between these reformers. Especially moving were the scenes where the pair toured Frederick’s burned-out home; where they fought over the enfranchisement of black men before women; and where he begged Susan not to hold a women’s rights convention in a southern state where black women were not welcome.

Personally, I enjoyed the proslavery mob scene and the final vignette about Ida Wells, which both figured prominently in my book Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All.

Want to read more about these two revolutionaries? Get your own copy of this easy read that portrays Susan’s entire life. Great for students, too!

This week in History: John Brown at Harpers Ferry

John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry shook the Anthony family’s roots when on this day in 1859 he broke into a federal arsenal in Virginia and was captured.

Lucy and Daniel Anthony had raised Continue reading

Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass association recounted in new biography

Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All is out in its new edition and explores her long-term association with Frederick Douglass. (Click here to order on Amazon.)This monument, titled “Let’s Have Tea,” depicts two of the main characters in the book.

A Multifaceted Friendship

Susan and Frederick were neighbors when both moved to Rochester in the 1840s; the Douglasses frequently dined at abolitionist gatherings at Susan’s farm home. The two worked tirelessly together for universal suffrage until a falling-out but were re-united in their old age. Read more about their friendship in my new easy-reading biography Susan B. Anthony And Justice For All: Suffrage Centennial Edition.

A Little Background on the Statues

When Susan’s brother Daniel died a rich man, he specifically left $1,000 for a memorial to Susan. Instead, however, she elected to spend the money on a woman suffrage campaign. (She outlived him by two years.) It wasn’t until 2002 that the Susan B. Anthony Neighborhood Association in Rochester, NY commissioned Laotian immigrant Pepsy M. Kettavong to create the larger-than-life statues near Susan’s Madison Street home.

Abolition Families Join Forces in Rochester, NY

In 1847,  two prominent abolition families became neighbors when Frederick Douglass settled in Rochester, NY near the Anthonys. There, he began publishing his abolitionist paper The North Star (later called Frederick Douglass’ Paper).

Douglass established his writing and speaking career in New Bedford (near Boston). Eventually, however, his rising fame threatened or inspired jealousy in some of the luminaries of the movement—most notably William Lloyd Garrison—so he set out in search of a new home.

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The Anthonys in Rochester

I have blogged extensively about the Anthony family in Kansas and Martha’s Vineyard because those two areas were the focus of my first book in “The Dauntless Series.” In the process, I’ve slighted one of the most obvious places anyone should mention when discussing the Anthony family: Rochester, NY, where all of Susan’s nuclear family lived at various times between 1848 and 1907.

So here’s my commitment: I will include the Rochester connection on a regular basis from now on. Not only am I currently researching Rochester sites and people that the Anthonys knew, but I have also created a program entitled “All for Suffrage: the Kin of Susan B. Anthony” where I will share my findings in person with a Powerpoint program. Several libraries have already booked this presentation, in addition to costumed appearances, to celebrate New York State’s centennial of woman suffrage.

If you want to share some Rochester historical tidbits or old photos, please scroll down to the bottom of this page and use the comment box.

I am excited that tomorrow I will be getting a private tour of the Talman Building on Rochester’s Main Street. It was the home of Frederick Douglass’s newspaper The North Star and also a site on the Underground Railroad. Watch for upcoming entries and photos from that visit!

About the photo on today’s post: I never stop puzzling over it. It was taken on the Anthony farm near Rochester, and none of the people in it are identified. Do you find their poses as curious as I do? I like to think that the man on the extreme right is Daniel Read, but have no way of knowing other than that he seems to be copping an attitude!

This is the home where both Daniels–Susan’s father and brother–lived, as well as Merritt. None of the men in the family ever lived on Madison Street, where the famous Susan B. Anthony House stands today. Two chapters of my book take place in this farm home.