The Fayette County school board reached deep into both this community’s educational history and the country’s past in choosing Frederick Douglass as the name for the new high school under construction on Winchester Road.
Frederick Douglass, the man, has one of the most fascinating stories to arise from the American experience, a testament to education, perseverance and the importance of fighting for what’s right. Born into slavery in Maryland, he barely knew his mother who lived on another plantation and never knew who his father was.
Despite rules, written and unwritten, against educating slaves, he understood that literacy was the key to escaping slavery and learned to read and write. He escaped to freedom when he was about 20 and took the last name of Douglass to confound slave hunters.
Douglass joined the abolitionist movement and became known for his oratory. He was so eloquent that many doubted that he’d ever been a slave, prompting him to write a detailed account of his life in slavery. Douglass was a true visionary. He advocated for women’s right to vote and, through his newspaper, the North Star, condemned not just slavery in the South but also segregation in the North. “Right is of no sex. Truth is of no color. God is the Father of us all, and we are all brethren.” was the slogan on the paper’s masthead.
Frederick Douglass High School in Lexington was the result of the segregated education system, enshrined in Kentucky in the 1891 constitution, that arose after the Civil War. It opened in 1948 and closed in 1971 after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation in public schools.
The old school building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 as a structure “that physically embodies the history of the state’s ‘separate but equal’ educational policy.”
Although the school has been closed for decades, the Douglass High Alumni Association has remained active and advocated tirelessly for naming the new high school after the old one.
Alva Mitchell Clark, a member of that group, praised the school board’s decision, saying it’s “a wonderful way to complete the integration process 53 years later.” We agree.