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Frederick Douglass historian receives NYS' highest honor

Rochester historian David Anderson (center) poses with protege Michelle Daniels (left) and state Sen. Samra Brouk after receiving the New York State Liberty Medal.
Sen. Samra Brouk
Rochester historian David Anderson (center) poses with protege Michelle Daniels (left) and state Sen. Samra Brouk after receiving the New York State Liberty Medal.

Over the weekend, Frederick Douglass historian David Anderson was honored with the New York state Liberty Medal. The Liberty Medal is the highest civilian honor that a state resident can receive and is given for lifetime achievement and exceptional community acts.

For more than 60 years, Anderson has built strong relationships in Rochester as an educator and his affiliations with community organizations such as The Urban League of Rochester, Action for a Better Community, School Parent Advisors for the Neighborhood (SPAN) project, and the Rochester School for the Deaf.

Anderson is best known for his work as chairman of the Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission and his work preserving the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass in Rochester.

NY State Senator Samra Brouk presented Anderson with the award Saturday before a winter festival at School No 12, which was named the Anna Murray Douglass Academy in honor of Frederick Douglass' first wife.

Brouk said Anderson's life commitment to equity, access, and justice make him most deserving of the award.

"These are individuals who change lives. They leave a mark on their community that is felt for generations to come," said Brouk.

One of Anderson's proteges, Michelle Daniels, credited Anderson for inspiring her to learn more about Frederick Douglass and his family.

Daniels founded the Frederick Douglass club at School 12, donated a statue of the late abolitionist at the school and commissioned the most recent painting of the Douglass Family at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.

She said that Anderson's work had birthed many historians such as herself.

"He wanted all of Rochester (and) all of Monroe County to know that this was Frederick Douglass family's county," said Daniels. "He gave me the charge of making sure that everyone who leaves the airport knows their names. So that mural is based on all the teachings that Dr. David Anderson has given it to me."

Frederick Douglass descendant Ken Morris gave his remarks virtually from California. Morris thanked Anderson for carrying on the history of his family.

"I know my great ancestors are smiling down knowing and receiving this recognition at the Anna Murry-Douglass Academy, which sits on the site of the old family homestead," said Morris. "Dr. Anderson, you are a present and light in Rochester and the world."

Anderson was emotional at the ceremony. He said he didn't imagine making such an imprint on the city of Rochester when he first arrived as a Rochester Institute of Technology student. He credits the many friendships with people like Walter Cooper for helping him along the way.

Anderson said that people can make Rochester a place for everyone like Frederick Douglass did many years ago.

"It's the United States of America, it's New York state, it's Rochester, New York, and we are part of making it so, and Douglas put down a hell of a strong footprint for us to follow, so let's get with it," said Anderson.