African American Heritage
Visitors flying into the Rochester airport will undoubtedly notice its name, The Frederick Douglass - Greater Rochester International Airport. It was recently renamed after the abolitionist leader as a “symbolic gesture in the ongoing fight against racial injustice in Monroe County and the country.” Rochester is proud of its African American heritage and provides ongoing learning and support of the community through programs, festivals, and celebrations.
A social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and leader, Frederick Douglass, called Rochester home for 25 years. His first abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, was published from the basement of the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and he was a powerful presence at many suffragist events in the Rochester area. Visitors looking to learn more about the great advocate for freedom and women’s rights can visit exhibits at the Zion Church, visit his monument near Highland Park, which is also the first statue in the country built in honor of an African American person, and visit his gravesite at Mount Hope Cemetery.
The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI) is headquartered today in Rochester, NY. The FDFI exists to honor and preserve the legacy of Frederick Douglass and to create awareness about modern-day slavery in an effort to expedite its demise.
See more information on the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY here.
The Underground Railroad operated through Rochester from the late 18th century until the end of the Civil War. Thousands of freedom seekers used the trail to northern states and to Canada, with heroes such as Harriet Tubman helping to usher the former slaves through Rochester and onto freedom. As a tribute, The Harriet Tubman House and Museum in Auburn, NY (about an hour’s drive from Rochester) offers guided tours of her homestead and property, and the Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission’s website includes maps and locations of former Underground Railroad stations.
Explore the paths that courageous freedom seekers followed through Rochester in “Flight to Freedom: Rochester’s Underground Railroad,” a permanent interactive exhibition at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. Walk in the footsteps of Austin Steward, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Reverend Thomas James as they overcome tremendous obstacles to build free lives. Learn how they joined Rochester activists in the fight to abolish slavery and help others seeking freedom.
To this day Black Rochesterians continue to shape the culture and world around us. Garth Fagan, head of the renowned Garth Fagan Dance company and Tony award-winner who choreographed Broadway’s Lion King, is headquartered in Rochester, NY.
As for festivals and celebrations, Rochester doesn’t disappoint. The annual Rochester Summer Soul Music Festival celebrates the heart and soul of Rochester, NY. Produced in partnership with the City of Rochester, this family-friendly experience offers authentic, grassroots community engagement through music and special activities.
The Clarissa Street Reunion is an annual festival that takes place in one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in Rochester. The event celebrates a neighborhood known for producing renowned jazz musicians in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
The Summer Rochester Black Culture Festival brings the community together with food, dancing, music, and vendors, and features wares from many black-owned businesses. A variety of events are also hosted by The City of Rochester Black History Committee, including the annual Black Heritage and Youth Junior Galas.
Download The Rochester, NY African American Heritage Historical & Cultural Guide Here
If you’re looking to support black-owned businesses while in Rochester, visit the Black-Owned Business Rochester (BOB) directory for more information.