2 Black Heroes, 2 Cities in New York: A Journey Into the Past

Memphis. Atlanta. Birmingham. There are certain American cities that are known for Black history. But African American history and culture can, of course, be found across the United States, in seemingly unlikely cities, like Portland, Maine, say, or Providence, R.I.

Many of these places are included in the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom Program, which was created by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 and whose mission is to preserve and promote sites with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad, a network of abolitionists who helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom. There are currently more than 700 Network to Freedom locations across 39 states, in addition to Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many are in the Northeast, a region that is not always strongly associated with Black history.

Curiosity about these lesser-known destinations is how I found myself on the road to Auburn and Rochester, N.Y., the homes of two American heroes: Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Frederick Douglass’s Rochester

Frederick Douglass, a formerly enslaved man who became an abolitionist, orator and author, is a point of pride among many residents of Rochester, the city Douglass called home from 1847 to 1872. He lived there longer than he lived anywhere else in his life.

Malik D. Evans, the mayor of Rochester, described the abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass, who lived in Rochester for some 25 years, as a role model for many in the city.Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

“Growing up in my house, my parents wanted me to understand that if people like Frederick Douglass could fight on behalf of freedom and on behalf of the ability to get an education, then I had no excuse,” said Malik D. Evans, the mayor of Rochester and a lifelong resident.

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