A statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was ripped from its base in Rochester on the anniversary of one of his most famous speeches, delivered in the city in 1852.
Police said the statue was taken on Sunday from Maplewood Park, a site along the Underground Railroad where Douglass and Harriet Tubman helped shuttle slaves to freedom.
The statue was found at the brink of the Genesee River gorge about 50 feet from its pedestal, police said. There was damage to the base and a finger.
In Rochester on July 5, 1852, Douglass gave the speech "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," in which he called the celebration of liberty a sham in a nation that enslaves and oppresses its Black citizens.
To a slave, Douglass said, Independence Day is "a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim."
Carvin Eison, a leader of the project that brought the Douglass statue to the park, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle another statue will take its place because the damage to the one that was pulled down is too significant.
Eison and others involved in the monument's creation believe the current national focus on race could have played a role in the vandalism.
"Is this some type of retaliation because of the national fever over Confederate monuments right now? Very disappointing, it's beyond disappointing," Eison observed to CBS Rochester affiliate WROC-TV.
"I feel (we should) put a monument back here immediately so whoever did this knows that we are not going to be deterred from what our objective is, and our objective is to continually celebrate Frederick Douglass," said Eison.
The statue was one of 13 placed throughout the city in 2018, and this was the second monument to be vandalized, WROC notes.
Reverand Julius Jackson Jr. was there for the first incident, which involved drunk college students, and he is hoping the latest act is also one of unintended mischief.
"We've been down this road before I actually spoke to the vandals of the first one," he told WROC. "I would like to believe it's not that, it was just some kids. But it wouldn't surprise me if it's some retaliatory, something going on."
Eison said, "They can topple over this monument, they could go topple over all of them, this monument will still stand because the ideas behind it are bigger than the monument."
First published on July 6, 2020 / 3:38 AM
© 2020 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.