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Monroe County approves changing airport's name to honor Frederick Douglass

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University of Rochester Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation
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The Monroe County legislature voted on Tuesday night to rename the Greater Rochester International Airport, in honor of Frederick Douglass. The new name for the airport would be the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport.

In July, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said that his administration would begin working with the County Legislature, the Federal Aviation Administration, and airport stakeholders to study the name change. Bello’s announcement comes after more than 2,500 people signed a Change.org petition to rename the airport in Douglass’s honor, started by Richard Glaser, the founder of community advocacy group RocGrowth.

The bill was sponsored by Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder and Republican Legislator Karla Boyce.

"We are proud that this landmark legislation passed with such overwhelming support," Felder and Boyce said in a joint statement release Tuesday evening. "Honoring Frederick Douglass, one of Monroe County’s most influential residents, in renaming the airport is something that our community can take great pride in. While taking this action to change the airport’s name to the ‘Frederick Douglass – Greater Rochester International Airport’ is something that has been discussed over the years, we feel fortunate to have been a part of this historic action. 

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“Each time residents and visitors arrive to our airport, they will be reminded of Douglass’s life and legacy of fighting oppression. Our remembrance through the airport renaming serves as recognition of our past and a promise of the work our community will do to make Monroe County a welcoming place for all.”

The legislation also calls for placing educational materials about Douglass within the airport.

Direct descendants of Frederick Douglass responded Tuesday night to the news about the renaming the airport for Douglass.

“I got very emotional when I heard the news,” said Nettie Washington Douglass, great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and chair of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI). “This is an incredible honor for the Douglass family which includes all of the residents of Rochester, New York. Thanks to everyone who made this possible including Richard Glaser, who started the name change petition, and the Monroe County Legislature.  I can’t wait to hear the captain say, ‘Welcome to Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport!’ ”

Kenneth Morris, Jr., President of FDFI and Ms. Douglass’s eldest son, said, “Frederick Douglass was one of the most well-traveled Americans of the nineteenth century so, there’s no doubt, he would be a frequent flier in the twenty-first century. Douglass called Rochester his home and he chose this as his final resting place. By honoring this particular historical figure in this way, I believe that Rochester is saying something important about itself: it wants to be a national center for individual rights and justice.”

This story also includes reporting from our media partners at CITY.

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