New York auction featuring Frederick Douglass items with ties to Syracuse

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Rare items that belong to or featured the work of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass will be up for bid at the same New York auction house that once sold a photograph of Harriet Tubman for $160,000.

Among the Douglass items are letters, photos and also an 1848 edition of The North Star, a ground-breaking newspaper he published in Rochester. 

One of the letters up for bid mentions the urgency to form the Committee of Vigilance in Syracuse to help the fugitives on the Underground Railroad.

The curator of history at the Onondaga Historical Association tells NewsChannel 9 it’s no surprise items that belonged to Douglass or feature his work are valued at $10,000 and even $15,000. 

It’s the rarity that makes them even more precious pieces of History, according to Robert Searing, curator of history at the OHA.

“He is critical in spreading the gospel of abolition, of working with the Underground Railroad, of working to break down the barrier of the idea of black inferiority…equal citizenship,” Searing said. “He’s a critically important figure. Any chance for you to have a piece of that action, a piece of that history, I think, for those of us that are interested, is such a rare event that you’re willing to pay 15 to $20,000.”

Searing says he hopes this auction pushes more people to take a look back at Central New York’s place in the anti-slavery movement. In Clinton Square, the Jerry Rescue is memorialized and it was also a spot where the Anti-Slavery Mass Convention was held — one of many times Douglass stood and spoke against social injustices.

“For this area, to say you were at the forefront or people of the city were at the forefront of fighting for social justice, fighting for equality, fighting against unjust laws and the power of public protest. The power of the public,” Searing said. “We see it on hand in these stories of the underground railroad — in the protests in Syracuse in the Anti-Slavery Convention, the Liberty Party. Pushing for change and trying to get America to live up to the ideals its founded on.”

The auction is happening Thursday afternoon at the Swann Galleries in New York City. The OHA hopes the auction will push more people to take a look back at all that’s happened in Syracuse and across Upstate New York.

The auction begins at 1:30 p.m. To view live bids as the auction runs or to make a bid during the auction, click here.

There are a total of 400 lots in the auction and about 100 lots are expected to be auctioned every hour, according to the Swann Galleries.

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