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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

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Norton’s Remarks at Congressional Ceremony Commemorating the 200th Anniversary of Frederick Douglass’ Birth Focus on His Life as a D.C. Resident

Feb 14, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today will speak at a congressional ceremony honoring the bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Douglass on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, at 5:30 p.m., in Emancipation Hall of the Capitol Visitor Center (First St NE).  Norton will focus on Douglass’ life as a District of Columbia resident, saying that he found he “could not live in the District of Columbia without becoming a champion for D.C. residents to have the same rights as Americans who lived in the states.”

Norton’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow.

Remarks of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton at Congressional Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Event

February 14, 2018

Because, like many born as slaves, Frederick Douglass did not know his birthday, we commemorate his 200th birthday today, February 14, the day this self-made man chose as his birthday.

I am grateful to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Cedric Richmond (D-LA) for organizing this congressional commemoration, and to fellow members of the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission, who will be sworn in today. 

I thank Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) and Senator Christ Van Hollen (D-MD), who, with me authored the law establishing this bipartisan commission.

Frederick Douglass’ gifts to our country were so bountiful, national and international in scope, that we might pass right over the majority of his life as a free man living in the District of Columbia.  Perhaps many knew that Douglass built his home, Cedar Hill, in Anacostia in Southeast Washington, because it is now a National Historic Site visited by thousands every year. 

But, who knew that Douglass served as a Howard University trustee, even as he traveled for other issues around the country and the world?  Who knew that Frederick Douglass, as a District of Columbia resident, was a staunch Republican, the party of his good friend President Abraham Lincoln?  Who knew that Douglass was appointed by three different Republican presidents to local D.C. positions—to the upper chamber of the D.C. Council, D.C. Recorder of Deeds, and U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia?  Who knew that Frederick Douglass ran for in the primary for delegate to the House of Representatives, the position I now hold, but was defeated by another Republican, who became the Member of Congress?  Who knew the Republican presidents were always in search of new ways to use Douglass’ enormous talents—appointing him to serve as U.S. Minister to Haiti and Assistant Secretary of the Commission of Inquiry to Santo Domingo?  Who knew that Frederick Douglass could not live in the District of Columbia without becoming a champion for D.C. residents to have the same rights as Americans who lived in the states? 

Not even Frederick Douglass knew or could have envisioned that the nation would celebrate the 200th year of his birth beside the statue donated by the residents of the city he called home.