Statue, Vibrancy Planned for Tremont’s Frederick Douglass District

By Seth Daniel

The heart of the Frederick Douglass District in the South End on Tremont Street and Camden Streets was once a vibrant business community with a healthy middle class and a great appreciation for the history of African Americans, in particularly Douglass.

All of that disappeared with the wrecking ball decades ago when most of the property was taken for Urban Renewal and to construct the Lenox Housing Development, along with Melnea Cass Boulevard.

Now, with some excitement brewing and significant funds committed, some residents of the Lower Roxbury neighborhood have been out surveying the public to find out what they’d like to do with a small, cobble-stone paved triangle along Tremont.

Aziza Robinson Goodnight, who grew up and still lives in the Piano Factory Building, has been spending hours in the little triangle area over the past week to find out what residents want in the space. Already, the plan is to put some kind of statue of Douglass in the triangle.

The design has been helped along by her father, renowned artist Paul Goodnight, and the sculptor has been chosen, Mario Chioto.

At this point, she said, there are versions of Douglass being read to by his mother, of his standing powerfully and reading, and a final one of his standing in a traditional pose.

“This is happening,” said Robinson Goodnight. “We have an artist and we have funding and commitments from the City and the BPDA. There’s a lot happening and we want the community to know and let us know what they’d like to see.”

The effort took a big step earlier this year when the statue project, under the Friends of Frederick Douglass, received a $250,000 award from the Browne Fund. The City has committed another $100,000 and there is also a commitment to move the bus stop from the center of the triangle.

She said it has been an effort of more than seven years, and likely longer for others who have tried in the past.

Lolita Parker, an artist who has studied the District and just put up photographs along Melnea Cass Boulevard in the Peace Garden of historic and contemporary photos of the area, said the project is exciting.

“I’m very excited about this project because this street all the way to Butler’s Hall was a whose who of African American politics and thinking and it was right here on Tremont Street,” she said.

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