The 185th anniversary of the birth of Frederick Douglass drew about 500 people to a ceremony outside his Anacostia home on Valentine's Day, but a national parks conservation group says the disrepair within that historic house dishonors his memory
The Douglass home -- Cedar Hill -- is managed by the National Park Service, and according to an assessment by the National Parks Conservation Association set for release later this month, the property needs nearly $2 million in critical repairs and restoration.
"We have a home that was owned by a man who has been called the father of the civil rights movement, and it's got major challenges to its historic structure and archives," said Iantha Gantt-Wright, director of the nonprofit organization's enhancing diversity program. "We hope this study makes Congress and the public understand what's going on inside the house."
Ultraviolet lights have damaged several 19th-century photographs in the home. A flawed ventilation system has led to mold and stains on the ceilings and walls. The threat of damage has forced the National Park Service to remove the majority of the Douglass library collection and put it in storage. There is also not enough staff to deal with visitors and do community outreach, according to the organization.
The association said the problem is that the budget for Cedar Hill, at 1411 W Street SE, has stayed flat for several years, so there is not enough money for renovations.
However, John Hale, superintendent of National Capital Parks East said there is enough money and that repairs are on the horizon. He did not provide budget figures, but he said that, to be safe, his staff is soliciting funds from private foundations to help pay for future renovations.
The complaint is not the first by the conservation association about the upkeep of the Douglass house. Two years ago, the organization listed Cedar Hill on its annual list of the top 10 most endangered National Park sites in the country, citing the moisture problems as well as a leaking roof.
Last year, the Park Service repaired the roof, but it has yet to replace the house's ventilation system
Hale said the ventilation system will be replaced soon, and, answering the complaint about understaffing, he said there is one vacancy on the site's six-person staff, for which the National Park Service is recruiting.
But Paul Gross II, acting director of Cedar Hill, says that during his 11 years there, the staff has gone from 10 to five and that the home does not have the funding to do the renovations and hire more staff.
"We don't have the manpower to deal with the visitors," Gross said. "We're trying to do restoration and build up staff . . . The restoration projects at hand have not been set aside in our budget. Sometimes, we get negative feedback from guests because we're trying to do two things at once."
On Valentine's Day -- which was adopted by Douglass, who did not know his actual date of birth -- talk was about Douglass, the man.
Douglass's great-great-grandson, U.S. Army Sgt. Kevin Douglass Greene, spoke at the ceremony about the inspiration Douglass has given to the generations of blacks who came after his death.
Winners of an annual Frederick Douglass youth oratory competition recited speeches that were delivered by the famous speaker.
Four wreaths of red and white carnations were dedicated to his memory.
Douglass, whose mother called him "my little valentine" when they lived in slavery on Maryland's Eastern Shore, escaped farther north to freedom.
He later wrote a celebrated account of his life as a slave, edited several black newspapers, and in the years leading up to the Civil War made public speeches about slavery across the United States and abroad. Before his death in 1895, he worked as the city's recorder of deeds and as a U.S. marshal.
He moved to Washington in 1872, and, in 1878, he bought Cedar Hill, where he died.