Maryland adds statues of freedom fighters Tubman and Douglass

Maryland's move to add statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass sends a message honoring freedom fighters of color that has been missing from the State House. The statues coincide with new African-American leadership in the legislature.

Brian Witte/AP
Statues of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are moved into the Maryland State House on Jan. 27, 2020 in Annapolis, Maryland. The statues will be unveiled on Feb. 10, 2020 in the Old House Chamber, the room where slavery was abolished in 1864.

At a time when states are debating the removal of Confederate monuments, Maryland is adding bronze statues of two of the state's famous black historical figures to the Maryland State House.

The statues of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass will be unveiled Monday night in the Old House Chamber, the room where slavery was abolished in Maryland in 1864.

"It's a really incredible, incredible, moment," Senate President Bill Ferguson said, as he told senators about the upcoming event last month.

While the commissioning of the statues was put in motion several years ago, their arrival coincides with new leadership in the state legislature, including Maryland's first black and first female speaker of the House and the first new Senate president in more than three decades.

Ms. Tubman escaped from slavery to become a leading abolitionist who helped slaves escape through the Underground Railroad.

Mr. Douglass also escaped slavery on Maryland's Eastern Shore. He went on to become an author, speaker, abolitionist, and supporter of women's rights. His autobiography, published in 1845, was a best-seller that helped fuel the abolitionist movement.

The statues aren't the only recent examples of the state taking steps to reflect its rich black history.

Last month, a portrait of a black female lawmaker replaced one of a white governor who had been on the wall for 115 years. The painting of Verda Welcome, who was elected to the state Senate in 1962, is the first portrait of a black person to adorn the Maryland's Senate walls.

During the unveiling ceremony, Mr. Ferguson, who became Senate president last month, recalled a letter he received from an eight-grader in Baltimore several years ago. The student wrote she was saddened she did not see anyone who looked like her in the paintings that decorate the State House.

"We've heard a lot about change in these chambers over the last few days, and portraits are, I admit, less impactful than our elected leaders, but the public display of portraits is meaningful," State Archivist Tim Baker said during the ceremony. "Images have an importance that transcends the painted canvas."

Mary Sue Welcome, the late senator's daughter, said during the unveiling of her mother's portrait that she was struck by how much more diverse the legislative body has become since her mother served in office.

"When I was a little girl I used to come to these chambers – and to the one across the hall – and I would look around and the color was a lot different than it is now," Ms. Welcome said. "The coloration is so absolutely beautiful now."

Maryland also has removed painful reminders of its past in recent years.

In 2017, the state removed a statue of Roger B. Taney, the United States Supreme Court justice who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African Americans.

State officials voted to remove the Taney statue days after a woman was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heather Heyer was killed when a man rammed his car through a crowd of people who were there to condemn hundreds of white nationalists who were protesting the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The state of Virginia continues to have some of the country's most prominent displays of Confederate monuments in its capital city of Richmond. But in December a large bronze sculpture of a young black man in a hoodie astride a horse was permanently installed on the lawn of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The "Rumors of War" sculpture was previously on display in Times Square and is artist Kehinde Wiley's response to Confederate monuments in the U.S. and the South in particular.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.