Washington, D.C.–Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke at the dedication of the District of Columbia’s statue of Frederick Douglass in Emancipation Hall. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
A decade after President Abraham Lincoln’s death, Frederick Douglass spoke in praise of the Great Emancipator. This is what he said: “The hard condition of his early life, which would have depressed and broken down weaker men, only gave greater life, vigor, and buoyancy to the heroic spirit.”
It is no wonder Lincoln and Douglass felt such affinity for one another in life. President Lincoln rose from poverty to preserve the union. But Frederick Douglass escaped the bonds of slavery to inspire a movement.
It is right and fitting that Frederick Douglass – this extraordinary man, this unflinching voice for freedom, this unyielding advocate for justice – should be honored with an enduring monument. And it is just and proper that more than 600,000 American citizens who reside in the District of Columbia should finally have a statue representing them here in the United States Capitol.
Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war, just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. And Washington, D.C. residents deserve the same right to self-government and Congressional representation as residents of any other state.
The District deserves statehood. And Congress should act to grant it.
This was a cause close to Frederick Douglass’s heart. Although Mr. Douglass championed many causes – the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage among them – he was also an unwavering advocate for equal representation for residents of the District of Columbia.
Only days before the end of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, Mr. Douglass spoke of the right of every American – regardless of race, gender or income – to a vote at the ballot box and a representative in Congress. This is what he said: “If [he] knows enough to pay taxes to support the government, he knows enough to vote; taxation and representation should go together. If he knows enough to shoulder a musket / and fight for the flag…he knows enough to vote.”
Nearly 150 years later, residents of the District have gained the vote in presidential elections but still lack a voting representative in Congress. As Mr. Douglass said, the District is, “the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people and by the people. Its citizens submit to rulers whom they have no choice in selecting. They obey laws which they had no voice in making.”
There is no better historical figure to represent the District of Columbia than Frederick Douglass, one of the first and finest voices for equality for its residents. Now lawmakers should not only to honor his legacy with a work of bronze, but also with an act of Congress.