The District of Columbia may not have a vote in Congress, but as of today it at least has a statue in the Capitol. For years, the legislature barred the District of Columbia from joining the states in placing statue representatives in the Capitol. No longer—today a sculpted likeness of Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave turned famous orator, will take its place among the hundred other state-donated statues dispersed throughout the Capitol.
After the statue cleared final legislative hurdles in May, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D – D.C.) said in a statement:
There is no better figure to represent our city than Frederick Douglass, who made the city his home and was deeply involved in D.C. government and in the civic affairs of the city. Douglass is not only one of the great international icons of human rights, he is remembered in the District also for his outspoken dedication to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the city.
Douglass served D. C. as a U.S. marshal and a Recorder of Deeds in the years following Reconstruction. He died in Washington on February 20, 1895.
Fun facts about Frederick Douglass:
- Douglass, raised Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, never knew his exact date of birth and chose February 14th, 1818 as an adult. His mother Harriet Bailey was a slave, and all he knew of his father was that he was white.
- When he was 8 years old, Douglass was sold to the family of Hugh Auld in Baltimore, Maryland. Auld’s wife, Sophia, consciously broke state law when she decided to teach Douglass how to read. After being rebuked by her husband, who thought that slaves who knew how to read were dangerously prone to insurrection, Sophia stopped her lessons. Douglass continued to read newspapers, books, and political material in secret. He later cited The Columbian Orator as a heavy influence on his earliest opinions about human rights.
- In 1838, after a number of different masters in the Chesapeake area, Douglass completed a successful journey to freedom and officially changed his name to Frederick Douglass. His chosen surname was inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake.”
- Seven years later Douglass published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. The book, which was initially thought too eloquent to have been written by a slave, sold more than 30,000 copies in its first five years.
- After traveling to the United Kingdom, where his freedom was purchased by a surge of new fans, Douglass established himself as the dynamic editor of a number of abolitionist newspapers. He went on to rise through the ranks of the US Government, serving in the District of Columbia and then as Consul to Haiti and Chargé D’Affaires of the US Embassy to the Dominican Republic. Many of the positions Douglass held during his illustrious career were the highest positions an African American had ever held.
- During the Civil War, Douglass became a close advisor to President Abraham Lincoln on matters of human rights. He later earned the trust of Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield.
- In 1877, Douglass purchased a beautiful home in the Cedar Hill neighborhood of Anacostia, Washington DC for $6,700. He passed away there due to a stroke just after speaking at a meeting of the National Council of Women on February 20, 1895.
- “There is no man’s opinion that I value more than yours. I want to know what you think of it.”
- Abraham Lincoln to Douglass during their last meeting together after Lincoln’s second inaugural address
- “The best I can do in the face of our history is remind myself that it has not always been the pragmatist, the voice of reason, or the force of compromise, that has created the conditions of liberty. The hard, cold facts remind me that it was unbending idealists like William Lloyd Garrison who first sounded the clarion call for justice; that it was slaves and former slaves, men like Denmark Vesey and Frederick Douglass and women like Harriet Tubman, who recognized power would concede nothing without a fight.”
- The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama (2006)
- “It is fitting that a statue of this famed civil rights champion will become the first to represent D.C. residents in the halls of the Capitol. But the fact that there is still truth to Douglass’s unsparing words is a rebuke to those who refuse to right the historic wrongs against the city.”
- “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.”
- Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
- “I hold that women, as well as men, have the right to vote, and my heart, and my voice go with the movement to extend suffrage to woman.”
- From an 1865 speech, “What the Black Man Wants,”in which Douglass advocates for women’s suffrage.
- “I have lived several lives in one: first, the life of slavery; secondly, the life of a fugitive from slavery; thirdly, the life of comparative freedom; fourthly, the life of conflict and battle; and, fifthly, the life of victory, if not complete, at least assured.”
- From The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892)
- “But the question is: Can the white and colored peoples of this country be blended into a common nationality, and enjoy together, in the same country, under the same flag, the inestimable blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as neighborly citizens of a common country?….We have passed through the furnace and have not been consumed….we may permanently live under the same skies, brave the same climates, and enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity in a common country.”
- From the June 1863 issue of Douglass’s Monthly
Update: The name of the sculptor, Steven Weitzman, has been added to this article.