Classical 91.5

Honoring Frederick Douglass in word and song

Dec 4, 2018

Autumn Haag, the University's special collections librarian and archivist for research and collections, holds the title page of "Farewell Song of Frederick Douglass," composed by Julia Griffiths and contained within a volume of sheet music recently purchased at auction by the University.
Credit J. Adam Fenster / University of Rochester Photo

A descendant of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington says Rochester should be the permanent home of an organization dedicated to their legacies.

Kenneth Morris is the great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great grandson of Booker T. Washington. His non-profit organization, the Douglass Family Initiatives, provides educational programming about modern day slavery and the prevention of human trafficking.

Morris says his team is looking at properties in Rochester that could be the organization's new headquarters, and he will consider feedback from the community about the possible move.

"We started looking at cities that were significant in the life of Frederick Douglass. Rochester, to me, seems like it should be the epicenter of everything Douglass, not only locally, but nationally and internationally.

Morris was a guest on WXXI's Connections with Evan Dawson on Monday.

Morris says there isn't a timeline for the move, but he's optimistic it will happen.

The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives was founded in 2007 and is currently based in Atlanta.

From left: Carvin Eison, who is helping lead the bicentennial events honring Frederick Douglass, Olivia Kim, sculptor, and Nettie Washington Douglass, a descendant of both Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington.
Credit April Franklin / WXXI

Morris also talked about the effort at a program held Monday night at Hochstein Performance Hall. He was there along with David Blight, author of a new biography called "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom."

The event at Hochstein took place on the 171st anniversary of the inaugural edition of Frederick Douglass's first newspaper, the North Star, which he published soon after arriving in Rochester. Blight's lecture happened at the same venue where Douglass's funeral was held in 1895, when it was Central Presbyterian Church.

The event at Hochstein on Monday night included a rendition of "Farewell Song of Frederick Douglass," from a rare piece of sheet music recently acquired by the University of Rochester.

On Tuesday, Blight will join Kenneth Morris Junior, who is a direct descendant of Douglass, at a program being held on the RIT campus from 10am to noon at Wegmans Theater at the MAGIC Spell Studios Building.