Frederick Douglass statue in the lobby at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW is not playing

John Muller

Enter the lobby of One Judiciary Square. Go through the metal detector. Look up and to your left. Frederick Douglass sees you and he is not playing.

The 7-foot, 850-pound bronze likeness of the Lion of Anacostia atop a marble base is fired up, no mercy in his eyes.

According to one of the best writers over on 15th Street NW, Michael Ruane, the statue depicts Douglass, “bearded and broad-shouldered, standing by a lectern as he delivers his famous 1852 speech about slavery and the Fourth of July.”

In a 2008 story Ruane wrote, Douglass’ “right hand clutches a document. His left hand grips the lectern. His frock coat is open, and his left heel is raised as if he is moving forward, about to make a point.”

Along with a statue of D.C.’s famed 18th century planner Pierre L’Enfant, the representation of Douglass was supposed to rest in National Statuary Hall, in the Capitol building.

Since the city is not state, as stipulates the United States Constitution, only legislation would allow Douglass and L’Enfant to join the current crowd of 100 statues (2 from each state)  in Statuary Hall.

Despite advocates (another 15th Street favorite, John Kelly) and legal efforts to move Douglass to the US Capitol, it looks like the Lion is staying where he is.

As my friend William Alston-El said about the Lion walking the streets of Anacostia earlier this year, “Man, Fred was too radical for these folks. They’ll recognize him but only so much. Because they know he wasn’t playing.”

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