Frederick Douglass (Wikimedia Commons)

A statue of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York was ripped from its base on Sunday, July 5, the anniversary of a historic speech that the abolitionist delivered in the city in 1852.

In his scathing treatise What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, Douglass addressed the crowd at the 19th-century Independence Day gathering: “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine; You may rejoice, I must mourn.”

The statue in Rochester’s Maplewood Park was found yesterday by the Genesee River, about 50 feet from its base, according to the police. The base and a finger were damaged. No suspects were arrested.

Maplewood Park is located along a former route on the Underground Railroad, a 19th-century network of secret routes and safe houses used by enslaved Black people to escape to free states and Canada. In 1838, Douglass used the course to flee from Baltimore, where he was enslaved, to Philadelphia. Later on, he would facilitate the escapes of other enslaved people, alongside abolitionists like Harriet Tubman. Douglass is buried at Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery.

The tombstone for Fredrick Douglass in Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester (Wikimedia Commons)

The statue is one of 13 monuments for Douglass that were installed across Rochester in 2018. That same year, two college students were charged with vandalizing one of the other statues.

In a tweet today, July 6, President Trump commented on the incident, laying the blame on “anarchists.” However, locals suspect that the sabotage was in retaliation for the tearing down of racist monuments across the country.

Speaking with the local WROC-TV station, Carvin Eison, an organizer who spearheaded the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, said, “Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it’s beyond disappointing.”

Eison said that the state should be reinstated immediately, “so whoever did this knows that we are not going to be deterred from what our objective is, and our objective is to continually celebrate Frederick Douglass.”

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Hakim Bishara

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...