For Anna and Rosetta: Representation through Public Art

Last year, I read a piece written by Rachel Y. DeGuzman about Anna Murray Douglass, the first wife of Frederick Douglass, titled “Another Look at Anna, the Other Douglass” here on the 540Blog. It was a thought-provoking read.

DeGuzman wrote of a very familiar narrative – history minimizing the role and importance of the wife or simply merging her identity with that of a husband who is a larger-than-life figure. While Frederick Douglass was a great orator and prolific writer, the contributions of Anna Murray Douglass, both before Douglass and during their marriage, should continue to be acknowledged, especially here in Rochester, a place she called home for so many years.

In the essay alongside Murray Douglass, DeGuzman spoke of Douglass’ eldest daughter, Rosetta Douglass Sprague, an educator and activist. Douglass Sprague had written of her mother in
Anna Murray Douglass: My Mother as I Recall Her.’ She would write, “the story of Frederick Douglass hopes and aspirations and longing desire for freedom has been told-you all know it. It was a story made possible by the unswerving loyalty of Anna Murray, to whose memory this paper was written.”


“Mother was the post in the center of my house and held us together”

It was important to her that her mother very much be part of the conversation.

I was inspired by DeGuzman’s piece. I am who I am today because of a community of amazing women who have lifted me up. The women who have supported me and continue to encourage me. My mother, my grandmother, my wife, my sisters, my aunts, and my daughter. Their story is just as important, because without them, I wouldn’t be me. Our storyline is interweaved, as it should be.

The words in the essay sat with me for a while. I kept coming back to the idea. How could we continue the conversation around Murray Douglass and continue to pay tribute to her here? There’s School 12 named for Murray Douglass, an art installation by Shawn Dunwoody as a tribute to Murray Douglass near the Douglass Family’s first home in Rochester on
Alexander, and now the new mural at the Frederick Douglass Airport which features Murray Douglass alongside her husband. But there should be more.


An idea that sparked action

I’m an advocate of public art, and I believe it has this ability to educate, raise awareness and brighten communities. Could the discussion around Murray Douglass continue through art? I thought it was important to include Douglass Sprague as well. Then one day while stopped at a light, two electrical boxes close to the first home of the Douglass family stood out to me. A canvas to bring the likeness of Anna Murray Douglass and Rosetta Douglass Sprague to life. The boxes are near the site of the Seward Seminary. The site where Douglass Sprague had been segregated from her white classmates, and later expelled. Why not here, I thought.

Because the idea was sparked by the piece written here, I wanted to partner with 540 to bring the project to life. I reached out to Calvin Eaton and his team, telling them of the idea. We’ve met a few times and are now ready to move forward to make the vision a reality. We believe that this public art project will be a small but powerful tribute. A legacy of these women and hopefully one of many in Rochester. 


540 is seeking public artists! 

We are currently working to identify two artists (we’d like for it to be someone that self-identifies as female, femme, or non-binary), raising funds, and obtaining permissions, while aiming towards a summertime execution of the project.

This installation will be a way to continue to discuss the story and voices of the importance and positive contributions of Black women who played a large but hidden part in the life, and legacy of Frederick Douglass.

Scope & Budget

To be completed in the summer of 2022. Two selected artists will each receive a stipend ($1000) along with funds for materials necessary to complete the public art piece. The mural is part of ongoing research and interest in Anna Murray Douglass and Black women historical figures at 540WMain. To learn more about Anna and Rosetta, you can read our blog post by Rachel DeGuzman here, or register for 540’s upcoming panel discussion on the topic here.

Eligibility & Applying

We are accepting submissions from underrepresented womxn artists who have an interest in public art, community impact, and historical narratives. 

Prospective artists should submit 1-3 sketches of their artistic rendering of Rosetta, Anna, or both for this proposed mural installation as well as a list of proposed materials needed to complete the mural.
The mural will be installed on electrical boxes near the former home of Anna and Frederick Douglass. The size dimensions are roughly 3ft wide x 4ft height. 


Files should be submitted as a jpeg or png with no more than three examples of work. 

Submissions will be accepted through
3/15/2022 at 11:59pm

You can find full details and submit your application here:

We hope you’ll follow along as we work toward the completion of this project.


About Quajay Donnell

Quajay Donnell is a Rochester, NY based photographer and writer with a passion for public art and capturing his community. His work has been published in Departures Magazine, The Washington Post, The Waterbury Observer (Waterbury, CT)CITY (Rochester, NY), The Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), 585 Magazine (Rochester, NY), and seen on WXXI (Rochester, NY). 


About Little Known Facts About (Black) American History

Little Known Facts About (Black) American History is an annual blog campaign curated by 540WMain that has a mission to promote and share little known facts about Black Americans everyday throughout the month of February. Now in its 5th year the campaign highlights the life and work of past and present day Black Americans that are overlooked or underrepresented in our conversations about American history.

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