WASHINGTON — The grand bicentennial kickoff on Saturday at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in historic Anacostia in Washington, D.C., drew more than 300 guests to the formal ceremony, with hundreds more visiting during the Presidents Day weekend to celebrate the former slave turned statesman, journalist and activist.

During his keynote address, Kenneth B. Morris Jr., the third great-grandson of Frederick Douglass and co-founder and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, announced the yearlong distribution of 1 million free hardcover copies of the bicentennial edition of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” in honor of Douglass’ 200th birthday. (http://www.fd2018.org/)

“We’re going to make sure that Frederick Douglass inspires,” noted Morris. “We’re living at a time when we need the words of Frederick Douglass. We need the unifying spirit of the great abolitionist.”

Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, as a third-generation Washingtonian reflected fondly on the advocacy of “The Lion of Anacostia.”

“Frederick Douglass was so local that he is current,” said the congresswoman. “When a man’s words and actions survive him for 200 years, he becomes immortal — and you spend an entire year, as we will, dedicated to the immortal life and legacy of Frederick Douglass.”

The words of the legendary orator roused the audience to sustained applause when the student winners of the 2017 Frederick Douglass Oratorical Contest presented powerful speech excerpts during the ceremony.

Chase McClure recited “I Speak to You as an American Citizen,” Aneesh Mandapati delivered “The Right to Criticize American Institutions” and Silas Montgomery recounted “I Denounce the So-Called Emancipation as a Tremendous Fraud.”

Robert G. Stanton, former director of the National Park Service, recognized the dozens of students who were present alongside the history buffs.

“I bring my warmest greetings to the young people who honor us with their presences today,” said Stanton. “For if we are to be true to the legacy of Mr. Frederick Augustus Washington Baily Douglass, then we owe it to ourselves to give every bit of our encouragement and support to the nation’s greatest wealth — our young people.”

“History lives in each of us,” added Morris. “We’re going to make sure that Frederick Douglass inspires,” Morris said. “There is a Frederick Douglass in every classroom. There is a Sojourner Truth, a Harriet Tubman, a Susan B. Anthony, a Cesar Chávez — they are out there. We just need to awaken their spirit and their consciousness — and we know that Frederick Douglass is capable of doing that.”

For more information on the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, visit nps.gov/frdo. For more information on the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI) book giveaway project, “One Million Abolitionists,” visit fd2018.org.

bbooker@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5749

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