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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton’s Bill to Establish Commission to Honor Bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ Birth Passes House

Oct 11, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) announced that the House today passed by voice vote her Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act.  The bill would establish a commission to plan, develop and carry out programs and activities to honor and celebrate the life of Frederick Douglass, the country’s greatest abolitionist against slavery, during the bicentennial anniversary of his birth, in 2018.  Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) is the original cosponsor of Norton’s bill, and Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) have introduced the Senate companion.

“I am grateful for the bipartisan support for our bill to honor the life of Frederick Douglass,” Norton said.  “With House passage of our Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act, we are one step closer to achieving our goal of a nationwide celebration on the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth.  I look forward to working with our allies in the Senate on swift passage of our bill to ensure the commission has the time it needs to plan next year’s many programs and activities.”

The Commission would plan, develop and carry out programs and activities that are fitting and proper to honor Douglass on the occasion of the bicentennial of his birth.  The Commission would also recommend programs and activities to Congress.  The Commission would be composed of 16 members appointed by the president and congressional leadership.  Four members appointed by the president would be based on the recommendations of the D.C. mayor and the governors of Maryland, Massachusetts and New York.

Norton’s full floor statement on the bill, as prepared for delivery, is below.

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

I thank the lead cosponsor of this bill, Representative Andy Harris, for working closely with me on it.  I also thank Chairman Trey Gowdy, Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy for bringing this bill to the floor in time to begin the commemoration of the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass, in 2018.  I am pleased that this bill has not only bipartisan but also bicameral support.  Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin have introduced the companion bill in the Senate.

The bill would establish a commission to plan and carry out programs and activities, as well as to recommend to Congress programs and activities that the federal government could undertake, to honor and celebrate the life of Frederick Douglass during the bicentennial 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 to New York and went on to become this country’s leading abolitionist and anti-slavery lecturer.  He served in several administrations, including as 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 his home at Cedar Hill is an official National Historic Site in Southeast Washington, D.C.  Every year, thousands of Americans and others visit Cedar Hill.  The Frederick Douglass statue that stands in his honor in the United States Capitol is a gift from the nearly 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia.

I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.  I reserve the balance of my time.

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