Rutgers-Newark Celebrates Renaming of Alumni Field to Frederick Douglass Field
By Ferlanda Fox Nixon
On April 17, 2019, more than 400 people gathered both to celebrate the renaming of Rutgers University–Newark’s athletic field from Alumni Field to Frederick Douglass Field and pay homage to a legacy of abolition and social action in the city of Newark. During the mid-19th century, a portion of the athletic field served as the site of the Plane Street Colored Church (also known as the First African Presbyterian Church). Former slave and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a rousing speech at the church exactly 170 years ago on April 17, 1849, to advocate the end of slavery. Also about that time, some of the land that encompasses Frederick Douglass Field served as the site of a stop on the Underground Railroad located in the home of abolitionist Jacob D. King at 70 Warren Street.
The renaming ceremony convened Kenneth B. Morris Jr., who is the great-great-great-grandson of Douglass as well as the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute; Teresa Vega, a distant niece of King; and dozens of other descendants of King. University officials and government dignitaries included Rutgers University President Robert Barchi, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Newark City Council President Mildred Crump, U.S. Representative Donald Payne Jr. (D-10), New Jersey State Senators Ronald Rice Sr. (D-28) and Teresa Ruiz (D-29), other members of the Essex County legislative delegation, and representatives for Governor Phil Murphy and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Rutgers-Newark Executive Vice Chancellor Sherri-Ann Butterfield served as the emcee.
Beaming with pride yet humbled by the occasion, Morris, founder and president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives; and Vega, the King family genealogist, shared stirring words of inspiration. Morris acknowledged the challenge his pedigree perennially bears but reminded everyone that “we all descend from somebody who made a difference.” He also stated that while our country is the product of slavery, it’s also the product of the abolition of slavery. Complementing Morris’s remarks, Vega declared that her family members “were among the original foot soldiers of freedom who institutionalized what is known as the Underground Railroad throughout the Northeast.”
To provide contemporary relevancy, Newark Public Schools (NPS), Newark Public Library, and Rutgers-Newark sponsored an essay contest for NPS students (grades 6-12) and Rutgers-Newark undergraduate students. NPS students’ essays addressed one of the following prompts:
-- Identify and describe the actions of someone who is alive today who has the same vision for freedom and equality as Frederick Douglass.
-- If he were alive today, what injustices might Frederick Douglass oppose in 2019?
Rutgers-Newark students’ essays answered the following question:
-- If Frederick Douglass were alive today, what would he say about race and social justice in the U.S.?
The prize recipients from each group included:
Newark Public Schools:
- First: Avinash Venukopan of Mount Vernon School (grade 6)
- Second: Allure Massey of Chancellor Avenue School (grade 8)
- Third: Kettlen Sousa-Pereira of Wilson Avenue School (grade 6)
- First: Masada Ahmed, biology major (senior)
- Second: Humza Yousuf, economics major (junior)
- Third: Christopher Paz, political science major (senior)
Before unveiling the banner that now carries the athletic field’s new name, Butterfield reminded the attendees of courtesy lapel pins of Douglass donated by the Rutgers-Newark Alumni Association and the free download of the 2019 Pulitzer-Prize-winning Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight (Simon & Schuster, 2018), available compliments of Audible. Thereafter, the dedication concluded with a reception at the University Club in the Paul Robeson Campus Center.
Replay (Part 1)
Replay (Part 2)
Replay (Part 3)
Replay (Part 4: Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. remarks)
Replay (Park 5: Teresa Vega remarks; Douglass speech reenactment)
Replay (Finale; Banner reveal)