On this site, where the "Genovar Opera House" once stood, Frederick Douglass spoke to the residents of St. Augustine on Sunday, April 7, 1889.
Born into slavery in 1818, Douglass rose in the pre-Civil War years to become a leading exponent of the abolitionist cause and in the nineteenth century a tireless advocate for the African-American community and civil liberties in general. A personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, Douglass played a vital role in persuading the President to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Douglass traveled to St. Augustine from Jacksonville in a special railroad car provided by the Jacksonville and St. Augustine Railroad Company. He was given a reception here attended by an estimated 700 citizens, according to the Florida Times-Union newspaper, "including prominent people of both races." Douglass was introduced by the Mayor of St. Augustine, William W. Dewhurst, who welcomed him on behalf of the Governor of Florida. An inspiring orator, Douglass spoke about the continuing struggle of African Americans to achieve civil rights in the post-Emancipation Era. At the close of Douglass's remarks, the audience rose to sing a national anthem, after which the crowd dispersed and Mr. Douglass left on the afternoon train to Jacksonville.
The Genovar Opera House burned in the great fire of April 2, 1914.