Frederick Douglass drew hundreds of people to Highland Park Wednesday night. The occasion was a special event held at the statue erected in that park to the famed abolitionist who spent a number of years living in Rochester.
It was dubbed, “Shine a Light on Douglass,” and it was basically a mini version of the RIT ‘Big Shot’ that has been held annually at locations around the world, where thousands often show up shining flashlights as directed by the RIT photography faculty and students as photos are taken using just the light from the various flashlights.
Although Wednesday was a February night in Rochester, a relatively “balmy” temperature in the 30s made things a little easier to bear, even with the snow pack still covering much of the ground around the statue.
On the cues shouted out over the megaphone by the RIT crew, people holding flashlights started waving and illuminating the statue of Douglass, who was born 200 years ago, and four photos were taken with a couple of minutes in between each exposure.
Douglass' exact date of birth isn’t known since he was born a slave and records weren’t well kept, but Douglass himself chose to make February 14th his birthday. The monument was erected in 1899.
There are a number of activities to honor Douglass in Rochester this year including the event Wednesday night.
The Frederick Douglass monument will be moved to a different spot within Highland Park this summer to give it better visibility.
Carvin Eison is project director for the Re-energizing the Legacy of Frederick Douglass Committee, and he says Wednesday night’s event really served a couple of important purposes.
“It’s an activity that brings our community together, it’s a centralizing activity that reminds people of the legacy of Frederick Douglass and reminds people that we still have work to do, but we can celebrate together in this momentous occasion,” Eison told WXXI News.
Dan Hughes is a lecturer in photo sciences at RIT and helped organize the event. He says that it was important for RIT to be involved in something that is such a significant part of the city's history.
“It’s a completely community oriented event where RIT attempts to make a connection with the community wherever the event happens to be at this time, so here in Rochester, our hometown, it’s kind of wonderful to represent.”
Blue Cease is executive director of RoCo, the Rochester Contemporary Art Center, which has an exhibit about Frederick Douglass going on now.
“It’s already inspiring people, people who didn’t know some of the nuance of his life here in Rochester, people who didn’t know the significance and the prominence of this monument. It’s galvanized and connected a lot of people already,” Cease explained.
A 30" x 40" photo taken from the event Wednesday night will be part of the RoCo exhibit for the next month or so. That is the "No Soil Better" exhibit, which reflects on the legacy of Frederick Douglass.
Here is video from Wednesday night's event at Highland Park from WXXI videographer Martin Kaufman: