Norton Introduces Bill for Commission to Honor 200th Anniversary of Birth of Frederick Douglass

Feb 12, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – With Frederick Douglass’s February 14 birthday approaching, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) yesterday introduced a bill to establish a Bicentennial Commission to study ways that the federal government might honor and celebrate the life of Douglass during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, in 2018.

In her statement for the Congressional Record introducing the bill, Norton said, “Douglass dedicated his life to achieving justice for all Americans.  He lived in the District of Columbia for 23 of his 57 years as a free man and was deeply committed to obtaining equal congressional voting and self-government rights for District of Columbia residents…My bill would simply establish a commission to examine ways the federal government can honor Douglass during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, including the issuance of a Frederick Douglass bicentennial postage stamp, the convening of a joint meeting or joint session of Congress for ceremonies and activities relating to Frederick Douglass, a rededication of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the acquisition and preservation of artifacts associated with Frederick Douglass.”

After years of rebuffs by opponents of D.C. statehood, Norton last year got her bill passed that treats D.C. like the 50 states by bringing a statue of Frederick Douglass representing the District to the Capitol Building.  D.C. is now the only jurisdiction that is not yet a state to have a statue there, along with the 50 states.  House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership sponsored the unveiling of D.C.’s Douglass statue, with Vice President Joe Biden and members of the Douglass family joining Norton and others to speak at the ceremony.  Douglass, whose statue is one of four statues or busts in the Capitol that honors an African American, was known as an abolitionist and an international human rights champion, but he also served in D.C. posts and was a militant fighter for equal citizenship for D.C. residents.

Norton’s full introduction statement follows.

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on the Introduction of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act

February 11, 2014

        Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, as we celebrate the birthday of Frederick Douglass, I introduce a bill that would establish a Bicentennial Commission to study ways that the federal government might honor and celebrate the life of Douglass during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, in 2018. 

        Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  He learned basic reading skills from his mistress and continued to teach himself and other slaves to read and write despite the risks he faced, including death.  After two attempts, Douglass successfully escaped from slavery to New York and became an anti-slavery lecturer and abolitionist.  He went on to serve in several administrations, including as a close advisor to President Abraham Lincoln, U.S. Marshal of the District of Columbia under President Rutherford B. Hayes and District of Columbia Recorder of Deeds under President James Garfield.  In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Frederick Douglass to be the U.S. minister to Haiti.  He was later appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to serve as secretary of the commission of Santo Domingo.

        Douglass dedicated his life to achieving justice for all Americans.  He lived in the District of Columbia for 23 of his 57 years as a free man and was deeply committed to obtaining equal congressional voting and self-government rights for District of Columbia residents.  His home, Cedar Hill, was established as a National Historic Site, in Anacostia in Southeast Washington, D.C. and his statute in the United States Capitol is a gift from the almost 650,000 American citizens of the District of Columbia.

        My bill would simply establish a commission to examine ways the federal government can honor Douglass during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, including the issuance of a Frederick Douglass bicentennial postage stamp, the convening of a joint meeting or joint session of Congress for ceremonies and activities relating to Frederick Douglass, a rededication of the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and the acquisition and preservation of artifacts associated with Frederick Douglass.  The Commission would report its findings and recommendations to Congress.

        I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

Published: February 12, 2014