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Mon, 02.26.2007

Frederick Douglass Honored By The American Press

Frederick Douglass

*On this date in 2007, Frederick Douglass was honored as the first Black reporter allowed into the Capitol press galleries.

Douglass is known for fiercely opposing slavery, championing equal rights and women's rights, and being a forceful speaker. But he spent much of his adult life as a journalist, first publishing a newspaper in Rochester, N.Y., where he lived near the Canadian border to be able to get away if pursued and then in the nation's capital. The Capitol press galleries are where journalists watch lawmakers on the floors of the House and Senate.

Douglass came to Washington in 1870 after he was asked to become editor of the New National Era, which chronicled the progress of blacks throughout the country. He later bought the paper after it ran into money trouble, but the enterprise collapsed in 1874 after a post-Civil War financial crisis wiped out many businesses in the city. His role as a pioneering journalist was honored on this date when the committee of reporters that controls access to the galleries dedicated a plaque and portrait.

Douglass was a member of the congressional press galleries from 1870-1874. Senate historian Donald Ritchie said, "We know he was here because the congressional directory, then as now, prints a list of everybody who sat in the gallery." He also mentioned “the names of Douglass and at least one of Douglass' sons were listed and that Douglass continued to visit the Capitol, sitting in seats for the public. "He was here. He did report because the African American community wanted to know what was happening in Congress during Reconstruction."

Jesse J. Holland, the first black reporter, elected to the Standing Committee of Correspondents, said, "Frederick Douglass was the type of journalist who recorded history and made history. So it's very appropriate that we're honoring him by placing this plaque and this painting here in the House Press Gallery." Holland is an Associated Press reporter on leave to write a book about blacks' contributions to Washington's historic sites. Elliott Lewis, a freelance television journalist, author, and regional director for the National Association of Black Journalists, said minorities are still underrepresented in most U.S. newsrooms. "It is our belief that America's press corps should look like America, so to be here today to honor a pioneering journalist is a great privilege."

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