The following is in response to 'Historic AME Zion Church in Newburgh may be demolished' which appeared in the Times Herald Record on May 28, 2018.
In 2020 Newburgh will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Frederick Douglass's jubilee march along Washington Street. The leaders of the AME Zion Church used his appearance to mark the passing of the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men. By 1870 the church had already become a symbol of liberty, nicknamed "the freedom church" thanks to its associations with the Underground Railroad.
Although the 1905 structure that stands now is not the modest house of worship built by the congregation's founders, and not the same walls that reverberated the booming voice of Frederick Douglass from the pulpit that's still used today, this building is a symbol of the grand strides of the African-American community in Newburgh as they passed on the flame of civil advocacy for centuries.
In an age when the American public is making an effort to remove monuments of oppression and contextualize historical symbols in our society, why are we not looking to preserve and elevate the symbols of the struggle for equality? This church would have been an incredible source of pride and progress at a time when "separate but equal" was the law of the land. As a monument, this building combats offensive cultural symbols from the past. It doesn't put any one person on a pedestal, recognizing that true progress comes from the strength of the right to assembly. Also, it gets away from isolating one date or accomplishment, acknowledging that the struggle for equality has been sustained through generations.
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