WXXI AM News

Frederick Douglass Photo Resurfaces After a Century

Feb 18, 2016

Historians believe the photograph hasn't been seen since the early 19th century.
Credit Veronica Volk / WXXI News

Aside from being a prolific writer, famed orator, outspoken abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass was the most photographed man in the 19th century.

Douglass posed for at least 160 photographs during his life, according to the book Picturing Frederick Douglass. But one of those photographs slipped through the cracks, and remained tucked away in an old scrapbook in the Rochester Public Library for over a century.

Until now.

Christine Ridarsky is Rochester's City Historian and Manger of the Local History and Genealogy Division of the library.

"We are so honored to be able to share this with you today. It's amazing, it makes us wonder what other treasures could be living in our collections. And we look forward to discovering more every day."

Mayor Lovely Warren unveiled the photograph, which depicts Douglass later in life, at a public ceremony at City Hall.

"Frederick Douglass recognized the power of photography as the most democratic of arts and a crucial tool in the fight for social reform."

The ceremony also included a message from Douglass' great-great-great-great granddaughters Dharma and Zoe.

"We hear you've made an amazing find. How fitting for for the city of Rochester: the city of photography and the city of Frederick Douglass. Congratulations Rochester, and thank you for keeping the memory of Frederick Douglass alive."

The City of Rochester is making a documentary about the photo called Rediscovering Frederick Douglass. In the meantime, it is on display at City Hall.