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Monroe County renames airport for Frederick Douglass

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The Monroe County Legislature voted late Tuesday to rename the Greater Rochester International Airport after the late abolitionist, orator, and son of Rochester, Frederick Douglass.

County Executive Adam Bello said last month that his administration would work with the  Legislature, the Federal Aviation Administration, and airport stakeholders to study change the airport to the Frederick Douglass-Greater Rochester International Airport.

In the ensuing weeks, nearly 4,900 people had signed a Change.org petition to recognize Douglass at the airport. Richard Glaser, the founder of community advocacy group RocGrowth, started the petition.

The bill was sponsored by the Monroe County Legislature’s Democratic Minority Leader Vince Felder and Republican Legislator Karla Boyce.

After the vote, the two lawmakers issued a statement calling their bill "landmark legislation."

“Each time residents and visitors arrive to our airport, they will be reminded of Douglass's life and legacy of fighting oppression," the statement read in part. "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 called for placing educational materials about Douglass within the airport.

The name change does not need sign off from the FAA, but the county must file paperwork to report the change to the agency for it to be final.

Descendants of Frederick Douglass issued prepared statements in response to the news.

"I got very emotional when I heard the news," read a statement from Nettie Washington Douglass, a great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass, and chair of the Rochester-based Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI). "This is an incredible honor for the Douglass family which includes all of the residents of Rochester, New York. . . .  I can’t wait to hear the captain say, ‘Welcome to Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport!’”

Kenneth Morris, Jr., the president of FDFI and Nettie Washington Douglass’s eldest son, said of his great-great-great grandfather, "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 21st 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.”

Randy Gorbman is the news director of WXXI News, a media partner of CITY. He can be reached at rgorbman@wxxi.org.