Rochester's Roots: Activists relaunching Frederick Douglass' anti-slavery paper

February 12, 2019 06:30 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- This week marks Frederick Douglass’ birthday. The abolitionist, journalist, and suffragist spent many years in Rochester, and it's where he launched the North Star.

The anti-slavery paper, last published in the 1800s, is coming back to life this week.


To rebuild the North Star for a new generation, the team is using the original North Star to guide them -- making a modern media company, frustrated with how the mainstream media tackles race and social injustice, similar to how Douglass felt when he started the paper in Rochester. 

Inside the Rochester Public Library are original copies of Frederick Douglass' North Star.

"This was the first newspaper owned and published by an African American and a former slave at that," City Historian Christine Ridarsky said.

The library is currently digitizing its newspaper collection. It will be accessible to anyone in the world for free, using modern technology Douglass couldn't even fathom in the 1800s.

"This will be the next generation in preserving these papers," Ridarsky said.

While she works to preserve the originals, activists Shaun King and Benjamin Dixon are hoping to give the North Star new life -- this time as a media company.

"We'll have a news app, an Android app, an iOS app, a website, we've purchased a television station where we'll do a daily television broadcast," King said.

King and Dixon are taking a page directly from the book written by Douglass with the blessing and permission of his family. 

"Part of our hope in restarting the North Star is to remind people of how brilliant he really was," King said. 

"Some of the things you find can be heart-wrenching," Ridarsky said. "He was speaking out at the risk of his life and his family."

"Friday, March 30, 1848. A colder shudder ran through the crowd," Ridarsky read from Douglass' book. "It was a sight that startled all."

King and Dixon also want to stay true to the original North Star's mission in addressing social issues and injustice.

"Part of our rationale why we're starting the North Star is some of it comes from our frustration of how the media handles race and racism, injustice, and feeling like there's a way we can do that," King said.

The North Star will launch Thursday, which marks Frederick Douglass’ 201st birthday. The group isn’t taking venture capital funding or commercial support, saying they will be built and sustained by you.

So far, more than 20,000 people have signed up as members. Click here for more information on the membership program.


Stephanie Robusto

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