By Jake Clapp
The Friends of Frederick Douglass has for 50 years held this continuous summer event, commemorating Douglass’s life and inspiring others to use his legacy today. But it builds on a history that goes back to the mid-1890’s. When news of Douglass’s death in 1895 reached Rochester, John W. Thompson led the charge for the creation of a monument. Thompson, along with a committee formed at a Eureka Lodge meeting, had started a project in 1894 to erect a monument to African-American soldiers and sailors who had died in the Civil War. But upon Douglass’s death, the committee decided that the monument would honor him. The statue of Frederick Douglass was unveiled on June 9, 1899. That committee continued to pay tribute to Douglass with annual events, and eventually took on a new name, The Frederick Douglass Historical and Cultural League. Then in 1968, Dr. G. Juanita Pitts and Howard Wilson Coles — a prominent member of the Historical and Cultural League — formalized the Friends of Frederick Douglass.
Among other events throughout the year, the organization hosts the Frederick Douglass Freedom Festival in June, centered on the Douglass monument now located in Highland Park. This year, the festival runs Friday, June 8, through Sunday, June 10.
On Friday, an abolitionist tour will travel to the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn (departure is at 10 a.m. from the Staybridge Suites Hotel, 1000 Genesee Street). On Saturday, a wreathing ceremony will be held at the monument in Highland Park (beginning at 1:30 p.m.), with speakers, including Kevin Douglass Greene, a direct descendant of Frederick Douglass. And on Sunday, a motorcade will travel from Favor Street (the original site of Memorial AME Zion Church, where the Douglass family attended) to the monument and the Douglass gravesite in Mt. Hope Cemetery (begins at 2:30 p.m. on Favor Street). For more information, contact Friends of Frederick Douglass at 224-381-7540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.