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Central Park

Frederick Douglass Memorial

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This memorial located at the northwest corner of Central Park honors the African-American abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman Frederick Douglass (1818-1895), and consists of an eight-foot bronze portrait sculpture by Gabriel Koren, and a large circle and fountain with ornamental and symbolic features designed by Algernon Miller.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818.  As a young man he escaped in 1838 to New York where he wed Anna Murray and soon after took the name Frederick Douglass.  Distinguished for his oration, he quickly became a prominent abolitionist leader and lecturer.  Following the publication of his autobiography in 1845, Douglass travelled to England, where he lectured on the American anti-slavery movement and raised funds that purchased his legal freedom.  An oft-quoted dictate of his was: “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

Returning to America, he published the abolitionist journal The North Star, in which he endorsed women’s suffrage, and he continued to aid the “underground” flight of slaves to freedom.  After the Civil War Douglass held several governmental posts, including Assistant Secretary of the Santo Domingo Commission (1871), Marshall of the District of Columbia (1877-1881) and United States Minister to Haiti (1889-1891).  Douglass died in Washington, D.C. on February 20, 1895, and he is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

For most of its history the confluence of West 110th Street and 8th Avenue (Central Park West-Frederick Douglass Boulevard) was an uninspiring traffic intersection.  Though this crossroads at Central Park’s northern border on the edge of Harlem was named in 1950 for Douglass, it would be 60 years before the site was fully improved with the dignity it deserved.  A 1970s master plan for the site never advanced from the drafting table.

In the mid to late 1990s, a series of community-based design workshops organized by the Central Park Conservancy and later the Cityscape Institute led to a design competition for the circle in 2003--won by a collaborative proposal submitted by Harlem-based artist Algernon Miller and Hungarian-born sculptor Gabriel Koren.  Miller is also known locally for his Tree of Hope sculpture dedicated in 1972 on Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.  Koren has sculpted the Malcolm X Memorial statue located at the site of the former Audubon Ballroom, where the civil rights leader was slain.

For the Frederick Douglass Memorial Miller’s overall design includes granite seating and paving patterns based on traditional African-American quilt motifs, as well as a bronze perimeter fence with a wagon wheel motif.  He also responded to the design competition guidelines with a bronze water wall depicting the Big Dipper constellation that guided those on the “underground railroad.”  Koren crafted a standing bronze portrait of a dignified Douglass, cast at Polich-Tallix bronze foundry, and inspired by nineteenth-century photographs.  The circle and memorial opened to the public in June of 2010, and after further improvements were formally dedicated on September 20, 2011.

Frederick Douglass Memorial Details

  • Location: Central Park North and Frederick Douglass Boulevard
  • Sculptor: Gabriel Koren (figure) and Algernon Miller (site and fountain designer)
  • Architect: Quennell Rothschild & Partners
  • Description: Heroic scale bronze figure, bronze fountain wall, and decorative paving and seating blocks
  • Materials: Bronze and granite
  • Dedicated: September 20, 2011
  • Foundry: Polich-Tallix
  • Donor: Percent for Art, Department of Cultural Affairs
  • Inscription: Granite block 1: BORN FREDERICK AUGUSTUS BAILEY, 1818, TALBOT COUNTY, MARYLAND. /

    Granite block 2: MARRIED ANNA MURRAY IN 1838, WHO DIED IN 1882. /

    Granite block 3: MARRIED HELEN PITTS IN 1884. /

    Granite block 4: "WHATEVER MAY BE SAID AS TO A DIVISION OF DUTIES AND AVOCATIONS, / THE RIGHTS OF MAN AND THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN ARE ONE AND / INSEPARABLE, AND STAND UPON THE SAME INDESTRUCTABLE BASIS." - 1851 /

    Granite block 5: "THE FLIGHT WAS A BOLD AND PERILOUS ONE; BUT HERE / I AM, IN THE GREAT CITY OF NEW YORK, SAFE AND SOUND, / WITHOUT THE LOSS OF BLOOD OR BONE." - 1855 /

    Granite block 6: "SUCH IS MY DETESTATION OF SLAVERY, THAT I WOULD KEEP THE MERCILESS SLAVEHOLDER PROFOUNDLY IGNORANT OF THE MEANS OF FLIGHT / ADOPTED BY THE SLAVE. HE SHOULD BE LEFT TO IMAGINE HIMSELF SURROUNDED BY MYRIADS OF INVISIBLE TORMENTORS..." - 1855 /

    Granite block 7: "OF MY FATHER I KNOW NOTHING. SLAVERY HAD NO RECOGNITION / OF FATHERS, AS NONE OF FAMILIES." - 1845 /

    Granite block 8: "IF THERE IS NO STRUGGLE THERE IS NO PROGRESS. / THOSE WHO PROFESS TO FAVOR FREEDOM AND / YET DEPRECATE AGITATION...WANT CROPS WITHOUT / PLOWING UP THE GROUND...THEY WANT THE OCEAN / WITHOUT THE AWEFUL ROAR OF ITS MANY WATERS...POWER / CONCEDES NOTHING WITHOUT A DEMAND." - 1857 /

    Pavement: RIGHT IS OF NO SEX - TRUTH IS OF NO COLOR - GOD IS THE FATHER OF US ALL, AND WE ARE ALL BRETHREN / MASTHEAD OF THE NORTH STAR /

    Fountain, north side: FREDERICK DOUGLASS / 1818-1895 / BORN INTO SLAVERY IN MARYLAND, FREDERICK / BAILEY FOUND THE WAY TO FREEDOM ALONG THE / UNDERGROUND RAILROAD IN 1838. DISGUISED AS A / SAILOR, HE TRAVELED TO MANHATTAN BY SHIP, AND FOUND SHELTER AT THE HOUSE OF ABOLITIONIST / DAVID RUGGLES ON LISPENARD STREET. THERE, HE / AWAITED THE ARRIVAL OF HIS FIANCEE, ANNA / MURRAY, A FREE BLACK WOMAN FROM MARYLAND. / THEY MARRIED, AND TOGETHER CONTINUED / BAILEY'S FREEDOM JOURNEY TO MASSACHUSETTS, WHERE HE CHANGED HIS NAME TO DOUGLASS. / LAUDED FOR HIS ORATION, HE BECAME A PROMINENT / ABOLITIONIST AND PURCHASED HIS LEGAL FREEDOM / FROM SLAVERY. / PUBLISHER OF THE ABOLITIONIST / JOURNAL THE NORTH STAR, HE CHAMPIONED / FREEDOM FOR ALL AMERICANS AND ENDORSED / WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE. DOUGLASS LATER HELD POSTS / AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE SANTO DOMINGO / COMMISSION (1871), MARSHALL OF THE DISTRICT OF / COLUMBIA (1877-1881) AND U.S. MINISTER TO HAITI / (1889-1891). FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF HIS WIFE / IN 1884, DOUGLASS MARRIED HELEN PITTS. HE DIED / IN WASHINGTON, D.C. ON FEBRUARY 20, 1895. /

    Fountain, south side: GABRIEL KOREN, SCULPTOR / ALGERNON MILLER, SITE ARTIST / DECEMBER 2005 /

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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