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Bust of Frederick Douglass unveiled in Massachusetts Senate Chamber

February 14, 2024

Statesman and leader of the abolitionist movement is the first new bust in Senate chamber in over 100 years;
joins the Senate 130 years after Douglass addressed lawmakers

BOSTON (2/14/2024)—Today, a permanent bust of African American orator, writer, abolitionist, politician, and freedom fighter, Frederick Douglass, took its place among several of the United States’ foremost historical figures in the Massachusetts State Senate chamber.

The solid bronze figure was unveiled by Senate President Karen E. Spilka—who has led efforts to diversify the individuals represented in the Massachusetts State House—during a public ceremony on Wednesday afternoon that included members of the late artist’s family, community leaders and state officials.

“Today, Frederick Douglass takes his long overdue place among our nation’s founding fathers in the Senate Chamber, where he will inspire generations of Massachusetts lawmakers to lead as he did, with truth, justice, liberty, and humanity,” said Senate President Karen Spilka (D-Ashland). “Representation is powerful. Anyone should be able to walk into our Senate chamber and see themselves contributing to our dialogue as a Commonwealth, and with this historic unveiling we take an important step toward listening to, and lifting up, more voices in our Commonwealth.”

“My family is incredibly humbled to have our great ancestor honored in this way,” said Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., Douglass’s great-great-great grandson and President and Co-Founder of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, continuing, “From New Bedford to Nantucket to Lynn, and many cities and towns in between, Massachusetts is where Frederick Douglass found freedom, raised his young family, and began to realize the power of his story and his voice. It’s also where Douglass found support from many fellow freedom fighters, and where he recruited his sons Charles Remond Douglass and Lewis Henry Douglass to serve in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. We hope that this bust, displayed in the Senate chamber together with Douglass’s words, will inspire all who are united in the quest for social justice, liberty and equality.”

“The installation of this sculpture represents a significant moment in our history,” said Dr. Noelle Trent, President & CEO of the Museum of African American History Boston/Nantucket. “The recognition of Frederick Douglass, who considered MA his home for many years, in this historic space is worth celebrating. His work, principles, and values continue to be relevant today. I hope that with the installation of this bust, Douglass will continue to inspire legislators and visitors alike.”

“Massachusetts was an anchor in Douglass’ journey as an enslaved man and then a freed man, and his many dimensions as a human being bear witness to the necessity of resistance to injustice and are relevant today,” said L’Merchie Frazier , and artist, Artist, Member of the State House Art Commission, and Executive Director of Creative and Strategic Partnerships at SPOKE Art. “As this bust takes its place, he inspires us to address our history, and represents the power of art to remind us of the inspiration he provided.”

“My father would be thrilled to know that Frederick Douglass has a place in the Senate chamber,” said Nina Lillie LeDoyt, Daughter of the late artist Lloyd Lillie, who sculpted the original bust. “He and his wife were committed to civil and women's rights, and this is a great honor he would be so proud of.”

The bust fills a space left vacant after the Senate underwent renovations in 2019, after which Senate President Spilka committed to adding the bust of a person of color, at a time when all levels of Massachusetts leadership have become more representative of the residents of the Commonwealth.

It takes its place under a quote of Douglass that adorns the south wall of the chamber, which says, “Truth, justice, liberty, and humanity will ultimately prevail.”

The bust, which portrays Douglass as an older man deep into his career as a politician and orator, was commissioned by the State House Art Commission at the direction of the Senate in 2023. It was created by Sincere Metal Works in Amesbury and is an exact replica of a bust created by the late renowned sculptor Lloyd Lillie. The original bust sits in the Lillie family home in Maine.

Lillie’s other works of Douglass include one that resides at the Women’s Rights park in Seneca Falls, New York, and another at the Museum of African American History in Boston. The latter was loaned to the Senate and was on display in the Chamber in 2019.

Douglass’ ties to Massachusetts and the State House run deep. He spoke to lawmakers in the State House in 1895, and, following his death, both chambers paid tribute to his life by passing resolutions honoring his work.

Prior to that, Douglass and his wife Anna lived and worked in Lynn, and before that, New Bedford. When he heard news of the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass was down the street from the State House at the Tremont Temple in Boston.

The bust is one of only several pieces of art in the building that include people of color. Others include the Senate President’s HERStory project, which features portraits of women of color who have had a significant impact on the history of the Commonwealth, the official portrait of the 71st Governor of the Commonwealth Deval Patrick that hangs in the Governor’s office lobby, a portrait of Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, Governor Patrick, and U.S. Senator William “Mo” Cowan in the state library, and the bronze reliefs of Sarah Parker Remond and Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin in Doric Hall.