A statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was ripped from its base in an upstate New York park over the weekend, authorities said, prompting concerns that the act may have been revenge for the nation’s ongoing removal of Confederate monuments.
The vandalism in Rochester’s Maplewood Park took place sometime on Sunday, police said. The day marked the 168th anniversary that Douglass, speaking in Rochester, gave one of his most famous speeches condemning slavery.
The statue was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge, approximately 50 feet from the pedestal where it had stood. Its base and left hand were damaged, and there was no graffiti or any other markings left by the perpetrators, who remained at large as of Monday afternoon.
An investigation into the incident is ongoing, police told HuffPost.
The statue’s removal came as anti-racism protesters across the country have toppled or petitioned for the removal of statues and other memorabilia that commemorates the former Confederacy.
The motive for removing Douglass’ statue was not immediately clear, however.
Douglass was born a slave in Maryland and, after securing his freedom, dedicated his life to abolitionism and social reforms.
In Rochester on July 5, 1852, he delivered one of his most famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” which called out the hypocrisy in Americans celebrating independence when there were still slaves among them.
“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: 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,” Douglass proclaimed.
The statue in Maplewood Park was one of 13 in Rochester that honored Douglass’ life and long-time residence in the city. The Maplewood Park holds its own historical significance, as it often served as the final stop for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad, the secret network of routes and safe houses that slaves used to reach free states and Canada, according to the National Park Service.
Carvin Eison, a leader of the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, told the Democrat and Chronicle that the statue’s damage is beyond repair but that another will take its place.
He questioned whether the destruction may be related to the removal of other monuments across the country, in a possible act of “retaliation.”
“They can topple over this monument, they could go topple over all of them, this monument will still stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument,” he told local news station WROC.
Rev. Julius D Jackson Jr., whose historically Black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha led a march to Douglass’ gravesite in Rochester on Sunday, also said he wouldn’t be surprised if the act was done out of retaliation.
“We’ve been down this road before,” Jackson told WROC, citing the 2018 vandalism of another Douglass statue in the city. “I would like to believe it’s not that, it was just some kids. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s some retaliatory, something going on.”
Two college students were charged for the 2018 incident. Both reportedly apologized for what happened and blamed alcohol, not racism, for fueling the act.
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