County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo and Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-138th District, recently joined county legislators and local stakeholders for a groundbreaking ceremony to commemorate the start of construction on the Frederick Douglass Memorial Plaza in Highland Park.
Located on the corner of South Avenue and Robinson Drive, at the entrance of the Highland Park Bowl, the new plaza will house the relocated Frederick Douglass Monument statue.
“Frederick Douglass’s legacy is a testament to what makes our community such an incredible place — an unyielding commitment to equality, inclusion and fairness that rings true throughout the generations,” Dinolfo said. “Monroe County is proud to be leading this bipartisan effort to build a beautiful new plaza for the Douglass statue in Highland Park, so we may always remember the contributions of our hometown civil rights hero.”
The plaza and statue relocation is a collaborative effort of Monroe County and the state. Bronson helped secure a $125,000 grant for the $240,000 project. Monroe County is managing the project and will fund the remaining $115,000 of project costs.
“Over 10 years ago, J.D. Jackson came to me to share his vision of illuminating the statue of Frederick Douglass in Highland Park to inspire a heightened awareness of the monument and its meaning,” Bronson said. “Thanks to partnerships among New York state, Monroe County, the city of Rochester and local advocates, that vision has been turned into a reality. These renovations will allow our community to illuminate the past and honor the life of Frederick Douglass. The Rochester community Frederick Douglass called home will never forget the lasting impact he had on the world as an orator, abolitionist, advocate, freedom fighter and Rochestarian. His statue will shine bright and his legacy will live on.”
Moving the statue to a more accessible and visible location was inspired by advocacy of the Rev. Julius Jackson Jr., who mobilized an initial push to light the statue. Jackson is a leader at Eureka Lodge No. 36, the organization that initiated the original effort in the late 1890s to erect a statue to Douglass in Rochester.
“A dream deferred does not equate to a dream denied,” Jackson said. “Keep dreaming and get a team, because teamwork makes the dream work.”
Construction will continue into October. The site will feature a new concrete surface, stone seating walls, planting beds, lighting and an illumined sculpture array depicting the North Star, among other constellations. The North Star held significance in Douglass’ life as guidance for the Underground Railroad and the name of the newspaper he published in Rochester. A dedication ceremony will be held this fall.
The statue was the first in the U.S. to memorialize an African American citizen. It first was erected in front of the New York Central Train Station on the corner of St. Paul Street and Central Avenue in 1899. The monument was relocated to the Highland Park Bowl in 1941, a few hundred yards from the site where his home once stood on South Avenue.