Frederick Douglass Statue Becomes Part of the U.S. Capitol

6/19/2013, 2:24 p.m.
Hundreds of D.C. residents joined top national and local politicians to observe an historical event Wednesday when the statue of ...
A congressional ceremony was held at the U.S. Capitol on June 19 for the unveiling of a statue of Frederick Douglass. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

Hundreds of D.C. residents joined top national and local politicians to observe an historical event Wednesday when the statue of Frederick Douglass — one of the city's most distinguished citizens — officially became part of the U.S. Capitol.

The statue of Douglass, the 19th-century orator, writer and civil rights activist, had been housed at One Judiciary Square before it was transferred for an unveiling ceremony at the Capitol.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who fought to have the 7-foot statue placed in the Capitol, told the crowd that Douglass passionately worked for the District.

"Too few know how Douglass imbedded himself in the life of the District of Columbia, serving. for example, for most of his years as a Howard University trustee, even as he traveled the world," Norton said. "There has been too little recognition that as a District of Columbia resident, three Republican presidents appointed Douglass to three local posts: to what was then the upper chamber of the D.C. Council, part of the home-rule government given the District by the Republican Congress and president during Reconstruction, as D.C. Recorder of Deeds and as U.S. Marshal for the local and federal courts. Who knew that Douglass lost the Republican nomination for delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives?"

Norton plans to schedule an event for District residents in the near future in recognition of the statue, which was created by sculptor Steven Weitzman. She pointed out that Douglass fought for D.C. representation during his time and that fights continues presently.

"For Douglass, the District was no mere address," Norton said. "He lived what he stood for wherever he lived."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped Norton get the pro-statute legislation passed in the Senate, also noted Douglass's contributions in his home state of New York, where Douglass is buried.

"Frederick Douglass lived 25 years in Rochester, New York," Schumer, 62, said. "He published the North Star newspaper in Rochester in what was then the largest black newspaper in the country. He attended the women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, which was nearby."

The placement of the Douglass statute in the Capitol is considered a victory for the District, as it is the first statue in the Capitol to represent the city. All 50 states have two statues of notable figures in the Capitol.

However, the fight for full citizenship for District residents continues and has the support of congressional leaders.

"Six-hundred thousand residents of the District will see a statute of him here in the Capitol," said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We want more than that. We want full representation for the District in the halls of Congress."

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made it clear where he stood on District political representation.

"Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes," Reid said. "Washington, D.C. residents fight in wars. Washington, D.C. residents deserve self-government and congressional representation and D.C. deserved statehood."

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also spoke about the life of Douglass and his work to end slavery and obtain civil rights for blacks.

Douglass's great-great-granddaughter Nettie Washington Douglass — who is also the great-granddaughter of famed educator Booker T. Washington — said that she hoped her ancestors' spirit lives intensely in the hearts of the audience.