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D.C. Statue Of Frederick Douglass Unveiled In U.S. Capitol

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The statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was moved from a D.C. government building to the U.S. Capitol.
John Muller
The statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was moved from a D.C. government building to the U.S. Capitol.

It was a big day for some D.C. officials who have fought for the city's representation in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall—they finally got their statue.

Every state is afforded the right to place two statues of prominent individuals in the Capitol, but not D.C. For a decade D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has worked to get representation inside the U.S. Capitol, though, and last year Congress agreed on a compromise: the city could bring one statue into the complex.

The statue the city chose, that of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, was one of two commissioned in 2006; the second was of Pierre L'Enfant. For the last five years the statue stood in the lobby of a D.C. government building, and today it was unveiled in front of a crowd including Vice President Joe Biden, the congressional leadership and D.C.'s elected officials.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Douglass' likeness will serve as a reminder of the struggle by D.C. residents to get voting representation. "It is incumbent upon all of us to right this wrong of history and to afford the District of Columbia the voice it deserves," she said.

Douglass was runaway slave before he became an abolitionist and a U.S. Marshal in D.C. He was a Maryland native, but spent his last years living at Cedar Hill, an Anacostia home that overlooks the city and is now a national park.

Maryland-based sculptor Steven Weitzman created the seven-foot-tall, 800-pound statue out of bronze, and said that he sought to convey Douglass' passion.

"The whole idea was... that just by looking at the sculpture you would get a very good idea of who he was. I didn't want to do just another staid sculpture of somebody just standing there like many other statues. I wanted something that really showed the passion of what this man did, of getting his freedom from slavery, of teaching himself to read and write, dedicating his life to teaching other slaves to do so. What a remarkable individual," he said.

At the ceremony, Norton said that Douglass' life offered a lesson for all D.C. residents.

"Today, perhaps his most famous words, 'agitate, agitate, agitate,' inspire the District's determination to become a state," she said.

The Douglass statue is the fourth of an African-American to be placed in the U.S. Capitol.

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