On September 5, BMCC and the local Tribeca community celebrated the day when Frederick Douglass, the great African-American abolitionist, landed in Manhattan and experienced his first taste of freedom after fleeing a life of slavery. The college, in cooperation with City Councilman Alan Gerson, hosted the street naming ceremony in honor of Douglass.
The section of Chambers Street from West Street to the BMCC entrance ramp is now named “Frederick Douglass Landing” by the New York City Council. The BMCC entrance ramp is believed to be the exact location where Douglass fist stepped foot in New York on September 4, 1838, before landfill extended Manhattan several blocks west of that point.
Besides Councilman Gerson, who acted as master of ceremonies, other dignitaries attending the ceremony were: Joshua Bocian, the Director of Community Services for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; N.Y. State Assembly Member Deborah Glick of the 66 AD; Reverend Herbert D. Daughtry, sometimes called “the Peoples Pastor,”who provided stirring remarks about Douglass; and Chelsea-Lyn Rudder, Executive Director of the New York City Council Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
BMCC’s students, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the Tribeca community, crowded the ramp. The new BMCC Student Government President, Curtis Browne, received a loud ovation when he said, “We will carry on Douglass’ work and in the tradition of BMCC. We will ‘Start Here and Go Anywhere.'”
The association with Frederick Douglass’ history is particularly meaningful for students of BMCC, which is ranked fourth in the country in awarding associate degrees to African-Americans and whose student body has a majority of people of color.
BMCC President Antonio Pérez’s remarks pointed to Douglass as a great educator. “Douglass believed that education was his pathway from slavery to freedom.
It gave him the ability to shine as an abolitionist, author, writer, and linguist. By persistently traveling this pathway, he became the most respected African American orator of the 19th Century. This college has been and remains the gateway of opportunity for countless students from around New York and around the world.”
The Street naming event ended with a flourish when the dignitaries pulled a string on the street sign nearest to the college and the name “Frederick Douglass Landing” appeared. Applause followed and chorale singing by BMCC students, in honor of Douglass, ended the ceremony.
Afterwards, there was a free book distribution, courtesy of Barnes and Noble, of the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” Douglass’ extraordinary autobiography.
Douglass was born Frederick Baily in Maryland in 1818. As a slave, he was prohibited from learning to read or write, but, motivated by the belief that an education would be a path to freedom, Douglass began surreptitiously teaching himself to read when he was a boy. Using forged papers, he fled Maryland by train and boat in 1838, arriving first in Philadelphia, where he felt the threat of professional slave catchers was too high, and then eventually arriving in New York City. Of his experience arriving in New York, he later wrote “A new world had opened upon me … Anguish and grief, like darkness and rain, may be depicted, but gladness and joy, like the rainbow, defy the skill of pen or pencil.”