Speaker Boehner’s Tribute to Frederick Douglass

John Boehner

WASHINGTON, DC — House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) honored Frederick Douglass as a “man for all generations” at a statue dedication ceremony in Emancipation Hall of the United States Capitol.  More than 600 guests representing a broad cross-section of Douglass’s life and legacy were on hand for the event, which was live-streamed on speaker.gov/frederickdouglass.  Following are Boehner’s remarks opening today’s ceremony, as prepared for delivery:

“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to Emancipation Hall.  This is a proud day for all Americans.  It is especially so for the leaders and residents of the District of Columbia.  You have long labored to see this day come.  We offer you our gratitude and our congratulations.

“The man whose statue we are gathered here to dedicate was in the minds of many – including Abraham Lincoln himself – one of the greatest Americans who ever lived.

“He is depicted standing by a podium, giving an address.  We lean forward and listen carefully, as captivated audiences once did.

“His name is Frederick Douglass.  He says he was born into slavery sometime in February of 1818; he was never able to determine the day.  He talks about his experiences – about how he had barely enough clothes to cover his body, how he had to tussle with his master’s dog for food.

“Then he learned how to read.  It started with the Bible.  It led to articles that spoke of abolition and anti-slavery petitions.  This lit a fire in him – a passion for liberty you can still see in his eyes.  Indeed, ‘once you learn to read,’ he says, ‘you will forever be free.’  He resolved to escape, and after a try or two, succeeded. 

“A remarkable story, yes, but we’re only getting started.  See, he doesn’t just join the anti-slavery movement; he becomes its voice.  First it’s talking to big crowds like this.  Then writing books, then starting a weekly newspaper.  Then it’s meeting with President Lincoln about better treatment for African-Americans in the Union army.

“Still, ‘our work is not done,’ he reminds us.  Our speaker will go on to help the women’s rights movement come into its own.  He will be named a US Marshal, an Ambassador, and at the Republican National Convention in 1888, he will become the first African-American to have his name placed into nomination for President of the United States.  Through it all, he will maintain a core of integrity as unyielding as this bronze itself.

“Frederick Douglass did all this.  He set an example for humanity that is unmatched.  He is a man for all generations.  Today we place him here, in the company of kings and explorers … for our leaders to gather around and seek wisdom, for our children to gaze upon and find inspiration.

“We do this not only to honor a giant, but also to remind one another how richly blessed we are that such a man lived to prove that courage and ambition are not gifts of status, but gifts from God … and that anything is achievable through struggle and hard work.  ‘What is possible for me,’ he would often say, ‘is possible for you.’

“The Capitol has many statues.  This one of Frederick Douglass will hold a special place in our hearts and our capital city.

“Thank you all for being here.”

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