A statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was torn from its base and abandoned 50 feet from its pedestal in Rochester, N.Y. on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered 168 years ago.
The statue was vandalized and taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, according to police, a site where Douglass and Harriet Tubman had helped shuttle slaves to freedom.
Douglass’ statue was left near the Genesee River with damage to the lower area where it had been ripped from and to a finger on the statue’s left hand, police said.
The abolitionist’s speech on July 5, 1852, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” marks one of his most memorable acts of fighting against slavery. Douglas, who was a slave, questioned the ideals celebrated on America’s independence day while oppressed and racially unequal citizens still existed.
“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must morn,” Douglas said.
Douglass said that, to those enslaved, July 4th is “a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
Although it isn’t confirmed that the statue was dismantled for politically driven or racist reasons, Carvin Eison, a leading force bringing Douglass’ statues into the city, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, that “it’s particularly painful that it happened at this time.”
Social media goers echoed concerns that the vandalism had politically driven motivations, especially since it was committed on the anniversary of Douglass’ famed speech.
Eison said that the statue can’t be repaired due to the scope of the damage, but another statue will take its place soon.
Eison helped bring 13 statues of Douglass - including the one in Maplewood Park - to the city in 2018 to celebrate the abolitionist’s 200th birthday.
“It’s really sad because here in Rochester the statue of Frederick Douglass has always been a face of good,” Eison said.
With the wave of statues arriving in Rochester came acts of violence and vandalism to one of Douglass’ statues. In 2018, two students were arrested for dismantling one and they later pleaded guilty to criminal mischief.
The scene is still being investigated, as there were no traces of graffiti in the park, police said.
Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill. You can follow her on Twitter: @BucchinoRachel