Supporter of Renaming Rochester Airport to Honor Frederick Douglass Gets Death Threat

By Nanette D. Massey

Financial advisor Richard Glaser had trouble logging into his workstation remotely on Monday, July 20th. He called into the office to find that all of his passwords had been suspended for security reasons.

Glaser is the invisible hand behind a Change.org petition advocating renaming his beloved hometown’s airport, the Greater Rochester [N.Y.] International, to honor one the city’s most distinguished historical residents, Frederick Douglass. An escaped slave turned world renowned orator and presidential advisor, Douglass made Rochester his home from 1847 to 1872.

Glaser’s workstation was on lockdown because his firm had received a very provocatively worded piece of snail mail expressing a desire for no less than Glaser’s death. In the handwriting of a third grader, the letter addresses him as “you stupid Jew b—,” and promises to find his home and bring a most unspeakable harm to his wife, kids, AND dog. It finishes with a stick figure drawing of a man hanging from a noose.

 I facilitate a frank discussion for a mostly White audience via Zoom.com every Sunday afternoon with people from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, and Belfast, Ireland. My charge for participants last week was to tackle out loud stereotypes they’d learned about Black people. Like the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, falsehoods lose their power when we dare to speak plainly with one another. What we concluded was the most damaging stereotype is given the breath of life in the cavernous emptiness of lack of information about the happenings of the true, full history of the African diaspora on American soil. Our common learning would have us believe we came here as slaves, President Lincoln benevolently bestowed freedom upon us—and we haven’t contributed another damn thing to the creation of America as we know it until the civil rights movement’s beginning in the 1950’s.

That is the sad, destructive premise of this anonymous letter writer, that only white (Christian) people have done anything worthy of such acknowledgement as having the name of a forebear be the first that you hear as the pilot announces her descent to the city’s hollowed gates. In case you’re still unclear, this is the very textbook definition of White supremacy. We can’t point a finger at our misguided letter writer as if he is a freak anomaly that comes out of nowhere. This author is a product of a culture that relegates the history of Black people to 28 perfunctory days a year and balks at even that little bit of a concession. Given the bold events of vandalism and violence unfolding across the U.S. in the wake of the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Glaser’s employment is taking this threat very seriously.  There is talk of adding extra security at the office, and the letter itself is in the hands of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.

At the time of this writing the petition has gained steam, garnering over 4,000 signatures in just over one week. The story has been featured on the websites of People Magazine, Fox News, USA Today, and BET. The renaming of the airport is meant to be one incremental step in recognition of the absence of Black stories woven into the fabric of America that will lead to a bolder, more challenging reflection on the American identity. I wish God’s protection on Glaser’s family, and His finger on the letter writer’s heart and mind and all those who think similarly.