Frederick Douglass in Rochester: a gallery of images and words

Frederick Douglass in Rochester: a gallery of images and words

Rush Rhees Library, University of Rochester [Photo: David Kramer]


from A World Heritage Site in our Backyard: preserving and profiting from the history, culture, and ecology of the Lower Falls Gorge

Throughout this year, George Payne has written about and photographed the progress of the Lower Fall Foundation towards making the Lower Falls Park and Gorge a World Heritage Site, most recently in Seth Green: The Most Important Fisherman in American History and Touring Hawkeye: An Inside Look at Kodak’s Most Enigmatic Landmark.

One of the most historically significant features of the site is Kelsey’s Landing where Frederick Douglass helped freedom seekers make their way to Canada.

see Kelseys landing should join national network to freedom”(Minority Reporter)

Today, George adds to our appreciation of Douglass’ legacy in Rochester. Douglass’ most famous words were spoken in Rochester on July 5, 1852 at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence held at Corinthian Hall: “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro.”

Frederick Douglass in Rochester: a gallery of images and words


Frederick Douglass was the first African American to whom a public sculpture was dedicated. The bronze statue-2statute-1was dedicated on June 9, 1899, in Rochester, New York, with Theodore Roosevelt, governor of New York, in attendance. The cast of Douglass stands with arms held forward palms up, as if welcoming visitors. The statue is the work of James, W. Thomas, an African-American artist from Rochester. Originally erected near the train station, the statue enjoyed a prominent position in the city; in 1941 it was moved to Highland Park, near the site of the Douglass Rochester home.


Photo of Douglass statue in Highland Park by George Payne

Freedom seekers traveled the Genesee River looking for Canadian vessels heading north via Lake Ontario.


Photo of Genesee River by George Payne. This was a typical route for freedom seekers during the Fugitive Slave Law period in Rochester.


Douglass mural by artist Shawn Dunwoody

green-1The view of the river from Maplewood Park and the banks of Seth Green Island. Freedom green-3seekers would have traveled through this passageway to reach the majestic bend in the river by what is now Turning Point Park. See Seth Green: The Most Important Fisherman in American History


from Seth Green: The Most Important Fisherman in American History

The Underground Railroad trail captured in these pictures may date back to the Fulsom Point people almost 10,000 years ago. After the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850, it became a federal penalty to harbor escaped “slaves” in Rochester.  (Photos by George Payne)

A Rochester that Douglass would have known well.


Rochester in 1853. Reproduced in 1973 by HISTORICAL URBAN PLANS, Ithaca, New York from a lithograph in the Cornell University Library. This is number 208 of an edition limited to 500 copies. [Owned by David Kramer]

The slave is a man, “the image of God,” but “a little lower than the angels;” possessing a soul, eternal and indestructible; capable of endless happiness, or immeasurable woe; a creature of hopes and fears, of affections and passions, of joys and sorrows, and he is endowed with those mysterious powers by which man soars above the things of time and sense, and grasps, with undying tenacity, the elevating and IMG_3293sublimely glorious idea of a God. It is such a being that is smitten and blasted. The first work of slavery is to mar and deface those characteristics of its victims which distinguish men from things, and persons from property. Its first aim is to destroy all sense of high moral and religious responsibility. It reduces man to a mere machine. It cuts him off from his Maker, it hides from him the laws of God, and leaves historichim to grope his way from time to eternity in the dark, under the arbitrary and despotic control of a frail, depraved, and sinful fellow-man. As the serpent-charmer of India is compelled to extract the deadly teeth of his venomous prey before he is able to handle him with impunity, so the slaveholder must strike down the conscience of the slave before he can obtain the entire mastery over his victim.

The Nature of Slavery. Extract from a Lecture on Slavery, at Rochester, December 1, 1850


Bob Stevenson

Interpreters such as Bob Stevenson of the Maplewood Avenue neighborhood and Dr. David Anderson with Nazareth postacrdCollege, have generously donated their wisdom and time to the Lower Falls Foundation. Stevenson is an expert on the local history of the gorge and its various mill settlements. Anderson is an expert on Douglass and the Underground Railroad. Both men are enchantingly kind, thoughtful, full of information, and happy to teach what they know to others.

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts