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Medina’s Civil War weekend features Douglass marker event

MEDINA – An historical marker commemorating two speeches given by 19th-century African-American leader Frederick Douglass will be placed in a ceremony at 9 a.m. Friday on the Main Street site where Douglass once spoke.

Christopher Busch, president of the Orleans Renaissance Group, said the unveiling will be a highlight of a full weekend of events recognizing the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Another highlight will be a Saturday morning skirmish from State Street Park up East Center Street by blue- and gray-clad Civil War re-enactors, which promises to be interesting, “especially for those who aren’t aware of it, Busch said with a chuckle.

The South will surrender at noon Saturday near Bent’s Opera House, 444 Main St., a long-abandoned performance space now eyed for revitalization by Orleans Renaissance Group. The opera house opened in 1865, the year the Civil War ended, and the Medina Sandstone Society will place a large sandstone plaque there.

But the state historical marker regarding Douglass’ speeches will be featured in the Friday ceremony. Busch said that it is to be attended by hundreds of local schoolchildren, who will be brought over after an 8:30 a.m. Arbor Day ceremony about a block away.

The marker ceremony will be held at 430 Main, which was the location of a Methodist Episcopal Church where Douglass spoke on April 3, 1849. The church burned down in 1874, and today an appliance store stands on the site.

The other side of the marker refers to a “renowned address in Medina entitled ‘We Are Not Yet Quite Free,’ Aug. 3, 1869, to African-Americans gathered from across New York State.’ ”

The marker, cast by Catskill Castings of Bloomville, Delaware County, was first requested in February by members of the Orleans Renaissance Group and other citizens of Medina.

Douglass was perhaps the most famous black American of the 19th century. He was born a slave in Maryland in 1818, but at age 20, on Sept. 3, 1838, he escaped by hopping a freight train into northeast Maryland. He took a ferry across the Susquehanna River, disguised as a sailor, and then boarded another train for Wilmington, Del. He reached Philadelphia by boat and took a train from there to New York City.

He lived in Rochester for 25 years, starting in 1847, publishing his abolitionist newspaper the North Star and traveling frequently to speak and participate in anti-slavery efforts. After his death in Washington, D.C., in 1895, his body was brought back to Rochester for burial.

Busch said Douglass was a frequent visitor to Orleans County during his time in Rochester. He said the two speeches mentioned on the sign are likely only the most well-known orations he gave in Medina.

“He did speak in Orleans County on many, many occasions in various places,” Busch said. “He spoke in Lyndonville, he spoke in Shelby, he spoke in every little hamlet and burg. It could have been that Orleans County was a friendly place toward the concept of emancipation and civil rights at the time.”

Friday’s ceremony will include an appearance by David Anderson of Rochester, billed as a Frederick Douglass “impressionist.”

“I’ve never met the man, but I have been assured by folks who are in the realm of Civil War history that he is internationally renowned and does a very good job,” Busch said.

After the ceremony, which is to be attended by Mayor Andrew W. Meier, Assemblyman Stephen M. Hawley and a member of Rep. Chris Collins’ staff, the children will be bused to the Civil War Encampment at the Medina campus of Genesee Community College.

The encampment will be held Friday through Sunday.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com