Sometimes, history sneaks up on you, and it whispers more than it shouts.
Like it’s doing with La’Ron Singletary.
In the fire storm that is a congressional campaign, amidst all the distractions and distortions, the shouts of extremism and Trumpism, simple truths can go unspoken, the obvious can be unseen.
The history can stand in the shadows.
So let’s point it out.
If La’Ron Singletary is elected to the United States House of Representatives, he will be the first prominent black Rochestertian to go to Washington since Frederick Douglass. In fact, he will be, after precisely 150 years, a fulfillment of the Douglass legacy, a free, black American risen to the highest ranks of citizenship without regard to his race and heritage.
Not black history. American history. A threshold envisioned by Frederick Douglass, but oddly still unrealized a century and a half after he left the town from which he shook the world.
And history waits to see what we will do.
All of us, all across the 25th District of New York. From the conservative kitchen tables of Kendall to the woke breakfast nooks of Monroe County’s eastside. There is a decision to be made, a conscience to be consulted, a will to be ascertained.
And one way or the other, we will make a statement, about ourselves.
The election of black leaders in the Rochester region is largely a phenomenon of the current generation. Robert Good on City Council, Connie Mitchell in the County Legislature, Bill Johnson and Lovely Warren as mayor, Ronnie Thomas and Sabrina LaMar as presidents of the County Legislature. They and others rose with the support of ever-broader constituencies, but each relied on black voters primarily.
That’s how representative government often works – people vote for those whose characteristics and life experiences are most like their own. If you know where I’ve been, you know how I feel, and you will represent that in power. It’s why the Irish voted for the Irish and the Italians for the Italians, Catholics for Catholics and Latinos for Latinos.
But on that theory, neither La’Ron Singletary nor any black person would ever represent the Rochester region in Congress. Black people are less than 15% of the Monroe County population and less than 5% of the population of adjoining Orleans County, whose northern tier combines with Monroe County to form the 25th District.
Based on that math, history has no place here, and the world foreseen by Frederick Douglass does not exist.
But that math is not how this community works. Rather, at this juncture in this region’s life, the algebra of conscience and race comes close to valuing content of character, not color of skin, and La’Ron Singletary’s election has taken on an aspect of fate, not possibility.
On Election Day, the spirit within testifies that history will roar with the full-throated vigor of the freeman. On Election Day, as people of every hue and background mark the ballot that Frederick Douglass could not touch, his vision, his legacy, his hope, will be proven true.
If we choose.
If we choose to take history’s hand and prove as good as our heritage.
We named a bridge after him. We named an airport after him. His statue is all across our community. And now we find out if his heart beats in our chest.
It is easy to worship dead heroes, it takes courage to raise up new ones. It takes resolution to do something new, to abandon the habits of a lifetime, to keep the promise of our rhetoric.
And it takes brotherhood. Not agreement, per se, or unanimity, but brotherhood, the common cause of doing a good thing. Like Frederick Douglass, La’Ron Singletary is a Republican, but the Republicans alone – like the Democrats alone – will not in this generation send anyone to Congress from Rochester. To follow Douglass to Washington, La’Ron Singletary will need the support of independents, and Democrats, as well as Republicans. People with broadly different philosophies will agree on decency, character and moderation, and all will find representation in a man whose life demonstrates the Founders’ claim that all men are created equal.
And finally will be answered the question of Frederick Douglass’s downtown Rochester Independence Day oration of 1852: “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
“The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me,” Douglass told his overwhelmingly white audience. “The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
Not after next Tuesday.
On Tuesday, 150 years after Frederick Douglass left Rochester, a son of slaves will, with the broad support of his politically and racially diverse neighbors, be elected to a constitutional office of the United States government. A black man from Rochester will join the most powerful councils on earth.
Or history will be denied.
The choice is ours.