From late 1877 until his death in early 1895, Frederick Douglass was one of the most prominent residents of DC. An internationally known writer, lecturer, newspaper editor, and social reformer, Douglass was a man of his neighborhood of Anacostia, a historic area located in the Southeast quadrant, but his impact extended beyond the river into other areas of the city, too.
Follow inDouglass' footsteps and explore eight locations in the District that are part of not just his history, but also of the city that he called home.
From Capitol Hill to what is now downtown DC and point in between and beyond, Frederick Douglass was deeply involved in the politics and culture of the city. His indelible mark remains to this day, offering hope and inspiration to all.
1. Frederick Douglass' Capitol Hill House: This was Douglass' first home in DC. In 1872, Douglass moved his family here to Washington, DC. Since his beloved farm home on the hill in Rochester had burned to the ground on June 2, 1872. They moved to 316-318 A Street NE and stayed in rented rooms. Records indicate he lived there either from 1871 to 1877, though many other sources say 1872 and 1878, respectively. In any case, the Douglass family lived here for about six years until they moved across the Anacostia River to Cedar Hill in 1878, It can be found at 316-318 A Street NE.
2. Frederick Douglass National Historic House: When he lived in Washington, D.C., he lived in this single-family home from 1877 to 1895. In 1988, the landmark was established as a National Historic Site and has been preserved ever since. The National Park Service now owns and runs the house, the grounds, and the visitor center and museum, collectively called The Frederick Douglass National Historic Site. The house remains much the same as it was during Douglass' lifetime and still features original household items, decorations and artifacts. The Visitor Center, tucked into the east foot of the hill, houses his death mask, the actual Bible he carried with him when he escaped from slavery and Abraham Lincoln’s walking stick, gifted to Douglass by Mary Todd Lincoln in thanks for his service recruiting for the Civil War, among other items. The site is on Cedar Hill in Anacostia.
3. Frederick Douglass Statue in the U.S. Capitol: The statue, which is approximately seven feet tall (he was exceptionally tall in real life) depicts Douglass as a man in his fifties in the act of giving a speech with a determined expression. He stands beside a lectern, leaning slightly forward and holding up a crushed sheaf of papers. His left hand firmly grasps the top of the lectern, where an inkwell and a quill pen sit in reference to his work as an author. A man who believed in the power of appearance to create the right impression, the statue shows him dressed in a formal double-breasted frock coat, bow tie, and vest with a watch chain. Congress approved its unveiling on June 19, 2013, a date also known as Juneteenth that commemorates the arrival in Galveston, Texas, of Union troops who brought the news that the Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery in the states then in rebellion. The U.S. Capitol Building is at First St SE.
4. Charles Sumner School: Built in 1872, the Charles Sumner School was one of the first public elementary school buildings for African Americans in a segregated DC. It was named after an abolitionist senator from Massachusetts. One of the most significant historical events to take place at Sumner was the commencement of the very first public high school in the United States for black students in 1877. The commencement speaker was none other than Douglass. Currently, it houses a museum and archive for the DC public school records and artifacts. The school is at 201 17th St NW.
5. Metropolitan A.M.E. Church: Douglass has many connections to this historic church in downtown DC. A surprise celebration was held for his 71st birthday here; his impromptu speech from that night was written down by hand then typed; it’s at the Library of Congress today. Douglass delivered his greatest speech here five years later; called ‘The Lessons of the Hour', he speaks out against the lynching which had become rampant in the South. Douglass was inspired by Ida B. Wells’ investigative journalism into the true nature and extent of lynching in the South, and had joined her in campaigning against it in 1892. One year later, Douglass’ funeral service was held here in 1895. The church is located at 1518 M St NW.
6. U.S. Treasury Annex (renamed the Freedmen’s Bank Building): In March 1874, Douglass was named President of the Freedman’s Bank. It was a private bank chartered by the U.S. government with Lincoln’s support, with Congressional oversight. It was supposed to help freed slaves and their families gain economic independence as well. The Bank opened to widespread popular support and for many years did just what it set out to do, and Douglass was a passionate fan of the project, depositing $12,000 of his own money. The Annex building stands on the site of the original headquarters of the Freedman’s Bank, and has recently been renamed the Freedman’s Bank Building to commemorate that institution’s 150th anniversary. The address is 1503 Pennsylvania Ave.
7. FBI Building (former site of the Metzerott Hall): Douglass addressed a meeting of the National Council of Women at Metzerott Hall, xx now occupied by the J. Edgar Hoor Building, on February 20, 1895. This was his last public address; he died of heart failure later that evening. The building is located at 925 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.
8. Frederick Douglass Murals: Douglass left an indelible mark on the city and his presence is visible in the form of murals on buildings across the city. One of the most well-known is by prominent DC artist Aniekan Udofia’s at 16th and W St, SE; another can be found at Bread for the City at 1640 Good Hope Road, SE.; and one of the newest, titled "Spread Southside Love;" at the corner of 16th & W Streets NE. There are even more mural in Ward 8 that are less known but worthy of discovery if you take the time for a wander.
For more loal insights about Douglass and his life in DC, you can also arrange for a walking tour of the Anacostia neighborhood that he called home. Join John Muller, local historian and author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, DC: The Lion of Anacostia,” on a walk through Old Anacostia, examining the neighborhood through the eyes of residents past and present. Blending historic research and contemporary Ward 8 politics, the guide will guide you on a walk through time, exploring our city’s most historic Historic District. Stories of presidents, famed one-time resident Frederick Douglass, 19th-century architecture and neighborhood folklore are woven throughout. For information about public or private tours, contact: John Muller at firstname.lastname@example.org (let him know I sent you!).
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