Frederick Douglass

The Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, N.Y.

To the Times:

This is in response to the Letter To The Editor by Tommy White published Tuesday ("Freind makes misleading claims about attacks on statues," Daily Times, 15 Sept. 2020). I am originally from Western New York. Rochester is where my mother grew up, my sister went to school, my aunts and uncles resided, and my cousins still live. I guarantee I'm far more familiar with Rochester, N.Y., than either Tommy White of Wallingford or Chris Freind of Lurch-Wit Academy.

In his references to the toppling of a Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, Mr. Freind is not speaking for the right. He has merely concocted another stupid, irritating, and ridiculous (SIR) narrative; for such he is already famous. In my lexicon, "SIR Freind" will not refer to a knight in shining armor tilting at windmills, but an acronym to spare me the inconvenience of using three adjectives instead of one of the many terms not allowed in newspapers. We can engage in healthy debate, but right now the debate is hardly healthy, as narrative fitted to spectacle has replaced a passion for truth, however mundane.

I like reading the New York Times enough that I have an online subscription, but for a story based so far out in Flyover Country, Mr. White would have done far better to consult the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Here are the facts of the matter: The original bronze statue of Frederick Douglass continues to perch intact on his immaculately clean high octagonal pedestal. He's stood there for many years, the grass always beautifully cut, the grounds filled with annuals as soon as the snow and slush melt away, and a neat fresh wreath on a stand is laid at his feet.

Frederick Douglas the historical figure has many ties to Rochester and the Southern Tier. Douglass gave his 1840 speech in Elmira, a station on the Underground Railroad that formed the backbone of the region's largest black congregation. The North Star founded by Douglass in 1847 was published from the basement of Memorial AME Zion Church in Rochester. In 1848 Douglass attended the Seneca Falls Convention, supporting Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her resolution asking for women's suffrage, in opposition to Lucretia Mott. On July 5, 1852, the ladies of the Rochester Anti-Slavery Sewing Society heard perhaps the greatest antislavery oration ever given, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?" And Douglass' name joins those of Amos Noe Freeman, James Monroe Whitfield, Henry O. Wagoner, and George Boyer Vashon in The Claims of Our Common Cause.

Frederick Douglass' stature was never in question. Big Epoxy Resin Statues are a thing in Flyover Country, the most famous being the wildly popular Buffalo Bison Statues, individually decorated and placed in random spots around Western New York, raising millions for local civic groups and charities. Even when a bison is retired periodically, there's always someone to buy the old dear and perch him in a place of honor in the loft of a pizza joint. There's a lot of social buy-in, on all fronts. So someone thought it would be a nice idea to put up Frederick Douglass Brand Epoxy Resin Statues in 2018 to celebrate his birthday. There's 13 of them, in parks all over Rochester, including in parks where such monuments might be immediately swiped and scrapped were they bronze. Buy-in seems to be optional, especially among the young and stupid.

A few months after they were erected, two white yokels drunk on college Kool-Aid and gin mistook Epoxy Mr. Douglass for a garden gnome, tore it off its base, and dumped it near a river gorge fifty feet away. The adults were appalled. The young men were hauled into court and pleaded guilty. And like adults up there are inclined to do, they have a few more Epoxy Resin Statues standing ready in the pantry next to the Emergency Food Supply for the Next Blizzard. New Mr. Douglass was bolted into place, and The Adults went back to doing what has to be done: making sure the asphalt is properly sealed before the Next Blizzard comes along. Winter is Coming, you know. Yet another Epoxy Mr. Douglas is defaced. This time the perpetrators were not merely skunkfaced, but sober enough to make sure it was on July 5 and the general assignment reporters for the New York Times alerted that this was of National Significance. Oh, and we're going to keep the identities of the vandals anonymous, just to keep The Adults on edge.

Mr. White and Mr. Freind, or shall I say SIR Freind, I'm getting tired of hearing about these anonymous vandals. Personally, I'd rather be sealing asphalt rather than attend yet another depressing Zoom meeting to deal with the aftermath of other Anonymous Vandalism of National Significance.

Shelley Ashfield, Havertown


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