Frederick Douglass

MAG joins the Rochester community in paying tribute to Frederick Douglass

from left: Elizabeth M. Olds, Frederick Douglass; Hale Woodruff, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln Discussing Emancipation; Charles Wells, Frederick Douglass

The Story of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation

In 1942-43, a mural competition was held for the newly built Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D.C. The topic was “The Contribution of the Negro to the American Nation.” Hale Woodruff submitted this imagined grouping of Frederick Douglass, President Lincoln, and members of Lincoln’s cabinet (shown above, center). While Woodruff did not win the competition, his mural study is a dramatic reminder of the alliance of two of America’s most courageous leaders, Lincoln and Douglass, during a period that threatened to destroy the American union.

While Douglass never, in reality, met with Lincoln’s cabinet, he did meet with Lincoln and repeatedly urged the president to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Woodruff stressed the significance of Douglass’s role by appropriating the historical painting by F. B. Carpenter (later engraved by Alexander Hay Ritchie, below) and adding an animated Douglass and the colorful American flag.

engraving depicting Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet

Although Woodruff’s painting depicts a scene that never actually took place, Frederick Douglass was an ardent voice for the emancipation of the slaves. To learn more about his complex relationship with Abraham Lincoln, read his “Oration in Memory of Abraham Lincoln” delivered at the unveiling of the Lincoln Memorial in 1876.

above: Alexander Hay Ritchie, The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation Before the Cabinet (after Francis B. Carpenter), 1866. Gift of Grant Holcomb in memory of Thomas H. Hawks, 91.13

Selected works by African-American artists at MAG

portrait of Frederick Douglass by Elizabeth M. OldsFrederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln Discussing Emancipation, with Lincoln's cabinet members in backgroundportrait of Frederick Douglass by Charles Wellsportrait of Marcus Garvey by Luvon Sheppardlithograph depicting African women's bodies and artifacts associated with slaveryBlack female silhouette carrying white female silhouettePhillis Wheatley in foreground, three chained slaves in backgroundHarriet Tubman pointing slaves toward freedomdepiction of a sharecroppersculpture depicting Harriet Tubmanportrait of Harriet Tubman by Margaret Taylor-Burroughs.

View More Works by and About African-American Artists in MAG’s collection

The African-American Experience through Poets Walk and Story Walk at MAG

Passage from The meaning of the 4th of July to the Negro by Frederick Douglass

“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake….The . . . conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

These words by Frederick Douglass are commemorated on Poets Walk at the Memorial Art Gallery. Listen to them performed on MAGexplore. Works by other African-American poets on Poets Walk include:

These stories on Story Walk reflect aspects of the African-American experience in Rochester as expressed by diverse community members: