NEW BEDFORD — In honor of his 200th birthday, city officials joined members of the New Bedford Historical Society and selected students from Carney Academy in front of City Hall on Wednesday morning to honor Frederick Douglass.

On Monday, the Senate passed Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mark C. Montigny's legislation declaring Douglass' chosen birthday of February 14th as Frederick Douglass Day in the Commonwealth.

Mayor Jon Mitchell, City Councillor At-Large Brian Gomes, and President of the New Bedford Historical Society Lee Blake spoke to those gathered around the monument about what Douglass meant to the Whaling City and the abolitionist cause.

“Frederick Douglass really gets his voice here in the city. When he comes to New Bedford in 1838 he's 20-years-old and for the first time he's a free man, and he's treated as a free man here. He was able to get his first job here, was able to use the library resources here to continue his education, and he honed his speaking voice here,” Lee Blake said. “So for us, this is a wonderful celebration of freedom from Frederick Douglass, but also the way Douglass developed his own life here in New Bedford.”

Kerri Rodriguez-Bartie is a teacher at Carney Academy and chaperoned a group of fourth grade students selected to represent the school at the event. She says it's not only a good history lesson for the students, but also a great example of what kind of role models they can be.

“It's amazing that they have this type of role model that came to the city and was so inspiring with his writing,” said Rodriguez-Bartie. “ These children are working so hard to become great writers and he didn't have an education to do that, so it's really awesome to have somebody to look up to whose right in our backyard.”

City Councillor Brian Gomes also addressed the crowd outside of City Hall. The longest tenured City Councillor and minority, Gomes says, “To have a man of his caliber be in the City of New Bedford and to look back on his history, it's just a very good thing.”

Gomes also recalled the efforts made by the City Council to place the monument honoring Douglass in front of City Hall when it was first dedicated in the 1990s. The decision allowed for Douglass' memory to rest for all to see before entering the main entrance of City Hall, rather than being hid on the side of the building.

“For this monument to sit where it sits today, I'm very happy of the actions that City Council took back in the '90s on my advice to have that monument placed here in front of City Hall on Williams Street and not on South Sixth Street,” Gomes said. “Today you look at it as we celebrate his 200th birthday that it was the right thing to do. It means a lot to the city and to the history of the city and what this man's contributions were, and his history lives here in the City of New Bedford.”

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