Frederick Douglass

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” On July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass posed that question to an audience of nearly 600 people in Rochester’s Corinthian Hall. Invited by the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society to speak in celebration of American independence, Douglass gave an oration that called out American hypocrisy and put a spotlight on injustice and cruelty. Today, it is considered the greatest anti-slavery speech ever given. “This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

The Institute. Established in 1986, the Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African American Studies promotes the development of African and African-American studies in undergraduate and graduate education and research. The Institute provides a multidisciplinary and interdepartmental program that brings together historical, cultural, psychological, economic, and political perspectives for the study of people of African descent. And a fellowship program helps to further study and intellectual exchange within the community.

Digitizing Douglass. In 2002, the Douglass Institute and the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections initiated an effort to digitize all of the University’s Douglass materials. The job was given to undergraduate student interns to give them the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of this important leader in our history. The effort, now known as the “Frederick Douglass Project,” has provided a digital collection of Douglass correspondence, writings, and images.

Leadership House. If history has told us anything, it’s that we could use more people like Douglass. In February 2013, the University’s Fraternity Quad welcomed an addition created in the Rochester icon’s image: Douglass Leadership House. The leadership house helps members learn or improve their leadership skills and celebrates and raises awareness of black culture, politics, and history while presenting a physical expression of Douglass’s principles, as it serves students, alumni, and the Rochester community.

Where’s Frederick? Literally: Douglass can be visited at his gravesite in Mount Hope Cemetery. Honorifically: On the River Campus there’s the Douglass Institute, the Douglass Leadership House, and Frederick Douglass Commons, which is home to his bust (see banner above). There’s also a Douglass Medal and a statue of him in Highland Park. Metaphysically: Douglass is everywhere. Even today, we are still the beneficiaries of his legacy.