Press Releases

Tuesday, September 20, 2011
No. 71

Frederick Douglass Memorial Is Dedicated

First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris and Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe today joined Central Park Conservancy President Doug Blonsky; Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate Levin; Department of Design & Construction Commissioner David Burney; Congress Member Charles Rangel; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Bill Perkins; State Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell; City Council Members Melissa Mark Viverito and Inez Dickens; and President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation and a direct descendant of Douglass, Kenneth Morris to dedicate the Frederick Douglass Memorial, located at Central Park West, Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 110th Street.

Performing at today's dedication ceremony were members of the IMPACT Repertory Theatre, the Harlem School of the Arts, and Tony Award nominee Andre De Shields who recited excerpts from “Oration In Memory Of Abraham Lincoln,” originally delivered by Frederick Douglass on April 14, 1876 at the unveiling of the Freedmen's Monument in Washington D.C.

“Frederick Douglass famously said ‘If there is no struggle, there is no progress,’ and today’s dedication of the Frederick Douglass Memorial reflects the monumental effort undertaken to build a lasting legacy to a great American hero in the middle of a bustling intersection,” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe. “We are grateful to all of the city agencies, elected officials, and members of the community who worked so diligently to ensure that this circle is finally worthy of its namesake. We hope that New Yorkers will gaze upon this stunning memorial, designed by Algernon Miller and Gabriel Koren, and be inspired by the great civil rights leader.”

“Central Park is more than the landscapes and sites within its borders - it's also the surrounding neighborhoods and locals who value the Park as their very own backyard,” said Doug Blonsky, President of the Central Park Conservancy. “Leading those Park neighbors in enhancing this circle was a privilege for the Central Park Conservancy.”

“The Frederick Douglass sculpture by Gabriel Koren and ornamented fountain by Algernon Miller together offer a dynamic interpretation of an extraordinary historic figure,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kate D. Levin. “The Percent for Art program integrates artists into design planning for City spaces, and this installation will provide a wonderful new meeting place at the height of Museum Mile.”

“From the outset, our mission was to deliver a Memorial befitting a person of historical significance, as well as make it safer for pedestrians and motorists to make their way through the Gateway to Harlem,” said Department of Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney, FAIA. “We succeeded, and the students and adults who come to the Circle will appreciate the life and contributions of Frederick Douglass for generations to come.”

“The memorial honors a visionary leader and is a capstone to improvements that make this a true gateway to Harlem,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. “The public art transforms this former traffic circle into a vibrant public space and the streets are safer for everyone.”

“I am humbled that New York has chosen to honor my great-great-great grandfather with this statue,” said Kenneth Morris, President of the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation. “This recognition will serve as a reminder that Frederick Douglass was not just a champion for Americans of African descent, but he fought for the rights of all men and women regardless of color, believing that God intended us to be free. With his image now so conspicuously present in New York City, his legacy will forever live on and continue to inspire the next generation of leaders for many years to come.”

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.

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 led to the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art design competition for the circle. In 2003, the competition was 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 pensive Douglass, cast at Polich-Tallix bronze foundry, and inspired by nineteenth-century photographs.

The Circle and Memorial were built under the supervision of the NYC Department of Design and Construction as part of a capital project initiated by the NYC Department of Transportation to redesign the intersection so it is safer for all users, especially pedestrians and motorists. The Circle and Memorial are the centerpiece of a project that replaced a busy intersection with a traffic-calming circle; upgraded water mains and sewers and reconstructed the roadway of Manhattan Avenue from Cathedral Parkway to West 120th Street and Cathedral Parkway from Frederick Douglass Circle to Columbus Avenue.
Past and current elected officials, including Congressman Rangel, former Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, former New York City Council Member and current State Senator Bill Perkins and late City Council Member Philip Reed, provided the essential funding for this important safety and public space redesign.

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