Posted on June 20, 2013

Frederick Douglass Statue Unveiled in the Capitol

Ben Pershing, Washington Post, June 19, 2013

It is just over seven feet tall, a bronze, bearded figure with a determined gaze perched atop a three-foot marble pedestal.

The combined weight is 1,700 pounds, but the symbolic heft of the Frederick Douglass statue is much greater, as became clear Wednesday when the casting of the famed abolitionist and District advocate found its place inside the halls of Congress after years of delay and debate.

Before an audience that included Douglass’s descendants, national and local leaders and representatives of the many places he called home, the first statue chosen to represent the District was unveiled at a ceremony filled with pageantry in the Capitol Visitor Center’s Emancipation Hall.


The 50 states have two statues apiece in the Capitol, but the District was granted only one because congressional Republicans objected to placing the city on equal footing with the states. {snip}


“We know that a single statue is not enough. . . . It is incumbent on all of us to right this wrong of history and afford the District of Columbia the voice it deserves,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). Her fellow Democrats onstage applauded her remarks, while House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sat in silence.

The two Republicans also declined to clap when Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) declared that the District “deserves statehood” and said that he had signed on to co-sponsor statehood legislation. Vice President Biden did not mention statehood but said he and President Obama support “home rule, budget autonomy and a vote for the District of Columbia.”

Although Republicans avoided talk of the District’s plight, Boehner praised Douglass as “an example for humanity that is unmatched,” while McConnell called him a great “leader of the Republican Party.” (Biden also joked that Douglass was “one of my favorite Republicans.”)


Douglass is the fourth African American to have a statue or bust in the halls of Congress, following the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth. Reflecting the nation’s complicated past, Statuary Hall also includes Confederate heroes Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.


Douglass was born a slave in 1818 in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He spent part of his childhood and teenage years in Baltimore before escaping slavery to New York. Douglass lived in Rochester, N.Y., for more than two decades and moved to Washington in 1871.

Douglass was appointed U.S. marshal of the District in 1877 and then became the city’s recorder of deeds. {snip}