NEWARK, NJ – Long before Rutgers University-Newark created an athletic field on University Avenue, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered an address in 1849 at a church that once stood there.
Rutgers Board of Governors approved a resolution to rename the field in honor of the time Douglass spent here. The field will now be called the Frederick Douglass Field.
“Frederick Douglass intersected here with a longer history of social-justice organizing in Newark that both preceded him and followed him, up to the present day,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor in a statement. “Naming the athletics field for him would honor both a significant moment in time and its place in a longer progressive history that continues to drive our sense of mission at Rutgers University–Newark.”
Douglass was born into slavery, but escaped. He would go on to become a prominent abolitionist, wrote several autobiographies and also published an abolitionist newspaper.
Cantor proposed the name change after two researchers unearthed that Douglas delivered a speech about 169 years ago at the First African Presbyterian Church, where the field now sits.
The researchers were Todd Allen, of Chatham, and Rutgers-Newark graduate student Noelle Lorraine Williams. Allen also worked with Kenneth Morris, Jr., who is a distant relative of Douglass.
“From this day forward Frederick Douglass will forever be associated with Rutgers University-Newark and with the great City of Newark and we can all be proud,” Allen said in a statement.
Morris is also working with a team of Rutgers-Newark historians and administrators to highlight Douglass' presence in Newark.
“On behalf of the family of Frederick Douglass, I am delighted that Rutgers-Newark is enthusiastic about recognizing and lifting up the university’s connection to my great-great-great grandfather,” Morris said.
The two researchers have been studying Douglass' activities and dug up a whole trove of history about the field’s location. They discovered that the athletic field was also once the location of an Underground Railroad stop.
The church where Douglas delivered his speech also stood on donated land from Rutgers’ seventh president, Theodore Frelinghuysen.
Signage that bears the field's new name is still being prepared. The university is also planning an event for next year to mark the 170th anniversary of Douglass' speech.