Durbin celebrates long-awaited unveiling of Frederick Douglass Statute in the U.S. Capitol

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WASHINGTON, D.C.– Recently, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) celebrated the unveiling of a statue of Frederick Douglass in the United States Capitol’s Emancipation Hall by entering a statement for the Congressional Record. The ceremony marks the first time that the District of Columbia, like the states, will have its own statue in the Capitol. As chairman of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin included the provision authorizing the statue’s move in the fiscal year 2013 FSGG appropriations bill.
 
“One hundred and forty-eight years ago today Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. The date, June 19, 1865, has gone down in history as “Juneteenth.”  It is a day to celebrate the end of legalized slavery in America and to re-dedicate ourselves to the continuing the struggle for true equality,” Durbin said. “I can’t think of a better day to welcome to the United States Capitol – at long last – a statue of Frederick Douglass.
 
“By accepting the Frederick Douglass statue, Congress honors a great man and, I hope, moves closer to recognizing the rights of Washington D.C. to be represented fairly in Congress.”
 
Full text of Durbin’s statement is below:
 
Senator Richard J. Durbin
Statement for the Congressional Record
On the Installation of Frederick Douglass’ Statue in the US Capitol
Celebrating Juneteenth by Welcoming an American Hero Home
June 19, 2013
 
Mr. President, 148 years ago today Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to take possession of the state and enforce the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation.
 
It had been two months since General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse and more than two years since President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, but word of the proclamation’s promise was only now reaching those held in bondage in Texas.
 
With the reading of General Order #3 to the people of Galveston, the last remaining slaves in the United States were officially free.
 
The date, June 19, 1865, has gone down in history as “Juneteenth.”  It is a day to celebrate the end of legalized slavery in America and to re-dedicate ourselves to the continuing the struggle for true equality.
 
I can’t think of a better day to welcome to the United States Capitol – at long last – a statue of Frederick Douglass.
 
The statue of the great abolitionist leader was welcomed in a dedication ceremony earlier today. The statue now stands, appropriately, in Emancipation Hall, the great hall of the Capitol Visitors Center.
 
The Frederick Douglass statue is only the fourth carved likeness of an African American to be displayed in the United States Capitol. It joins busts of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Douglass’ fellow abolitionist leader, Sojourner Truth, and a statue of Rosa Parks, which was dedicated two months ago.
 
Importantly, the Douglass statue is the first statue accepted by Congress from residents of the District of Columbia for display in the United States Capitol.
 
A federal law gives each state the right to display in the Capitol two statues of its distinguished residents. Although District of Columbia residents pay federal income taxes and serve in our armed forces, they have no voting member in Congress and they had no statue in the Capitol, not one, until today.
 
By accepting the Frederick Douglass statue, Congress honors a great man and, I hope, moves closer to recognizing the rights of Washington D.C. to be represented fairly in Congress.
 
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is Washington D.C.’s only elected representative in either House of Congress and is a distinguished champion of freedom and equality in her own right.
 
She has been fighting for a dozen years for Washington DC’s right to display two statues in the Capitol, the same as every state.
 
I was proud to include language in the fiscal 2013 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill allowing the District to display the Douglass statue in the Capitol. I hope that America’s capital city will have a second statue in the Capitol soon.
 
I can’t think of a better or more distinguished choice for the District’s first statue than Frederick Douglass.
 
He was called “the Lion of Anacostia,” after the section of Washington where he lived for the last 23 years of his life.
 
He was a social reformer, a brilliant orator and writer, a statesman and a leader in the movement to abolish slavery in America.
 
Frederick Douglass knew that evil institution well. He was born into slavery as Frederick Bailey in Talbot County, Maryland, in 1818. Like many enslaved children at that time, he met his mother only a few times in his life. His father was likely his mother’s white owner.
 
When Frederick Douglass was 8 years old, he was sent to live with his owner’s relative in Baltimore. She taught him the first letters of the alphabet – but quit when she learned that it was illegal to teach a slave to read.
 
When he was 15, he was returned to his owner’s farm, where he risked his life to educate other slaves.
 
At the age of 20, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery. Disguising himself as a sailor, he boarded a train from Baltimore to New York City.
 
It was in New York that he changed his name to Douglass, to avoid being captured.
 
In the north, Douglass began speaking publicly about the horrors of slavery. He carried his message throughout the country and to other nations.
 
He published a book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, describing his life as slave and his efforts to gain his freedom. The book helped transform the debate over slavery – but it also forced Douglass to flee to Europe to avoid being recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act.
 
He continued to speak about equal rights for all people in England, Scotland and Ireland. Supporters in Great Britain were so deeply moved that they purchased Douglass’ freedom, allowing him to return to the U.S. after more than two years in abroad.
 
Upon returning, he settled in Rochester, New York, and began publishing The North Star, an uncompromising and highly regarded abolitionist newspaper.
 
When the Civil War broke out, Douglass recruited African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army.
 
His passionate writing and speeches are widely credited with influencing President’s Lincoln’s evolving aims for the war – from simply preserving the Union to ending slavery in America for all time.
 
After the war, Frederick Douglass moved to Washington, D.C.  He was appointed by presidents to posts as U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia, Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, U.S. Minister to Haiti and Charge d ‘Affairs to the Dominican Republic.
 
Frederick Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, regardless of race or gender, whether Native American or immigrant.
 
He famously said: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” He also fought for voting rights and home rule for residents of the District of Columbia
 
I hope that the new statue will encourage members of Congress to finish Frederick Douglass’ fight for District residents to have self-government and Congressional representation.
 
I will end with a story of the last time Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln saw each other.
 
It was Inauguration Day 1865. After hearing President Lincoln deliver his Second Inaugural Address at the Capitol, Frederick Douglass went to the White House for a reception in the President’s honor.
 
Police officers refused him entry at first. But President Lincoln got word that Douglass was at the door and instructed that he should be welcomed in.
 
When President Lincoln saw Frederick Douglass, his face lit up and he said in a booming voice for all to hear: “Here comes my friend Douglass.”
 
As we welcome the statue of this revered American to the United States Capitol, we say: “Here comes our friend Douglass.”  We are very glad you are finally here.
 
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