Home News Afro Briefs Originally published May 23, 2013

Frederick Douglass Statue Cleared for Capitol Visitor Center Site

by Zenitha Prince
Special to the AFRO

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    This statue of Frederick Douglass, the first monument in the nation to honor a black American, was erected in 1899 in Highland Park in Rochester, N.Y., Friday, May 20, 2005. The complete statue shows Douglass full-length on a pedestal. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

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(Updated May 26, 22013) After a long battle, the District of Columbia will finally have representation among the statuary on Capitol Hill.

The House voted May 21 authorizing the use of Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center for the unveiling of the District's statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former resident, on June 19.

The House vote was the final step in the process, because the resolution was already passed by the Senate and does not need to be signed into law to take effect.

“Today, after years of work, our city receives closure that residents will be represented in the Capitol with a statue, like each of the 50 states,” said non-voting Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C) on the House floor May 21. “Next month, on June 19, we will celebrate this long-sought symbol of our American citizenship.”

Norton said in choosing Douglass, the citizens of the District were showing their commitment to issues of self-governance—an ongoing struggle. Even the placement of the statue became a skirmish in that battle—it was blocked for years by rules that stated that only the 50 states could display statues of their local heroes and heroines in the Capitol.

“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,” the congresswoman said. “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.”

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and others echoed those sentiments.

“I am pleased that the more than 600,000 American citizens who reside in the District of Columbia will finally have a statue representing them in the U.S. Capitol,” she said in a statement. “While the District deserves to have two statues in the Capitol, like the states, since its residents pay federal taxes and have fought and died in every American war, a statue depicting Frederick Douglass could not be a more apt representative for the people of D.C.

“Douglass fought for District residents to have self-government and Congressional representation,” she added, “a fight our Caucus carries on today.”

The Douglass statue, which was created by sculptor Steven Weitzman and commissioned seven years ago, will be only the fourth statue or bust in the Capitol that honors an African American.

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