When a figure as historically significant as Frederick Douglass celebrates his 200th birthday, it calls for quite a celebration. So it’s no surprise that many throughout the region are planning events to honor the bicentennial of the Maryland abolitionist and orator.
“Douglass is an internationally renowned father of civil rights, an abolitionist, an orator, and a statesman,” said Dale Green, assistant professor of architecture and lead faculty for historic preservation at Morgan State University, who will be attending and helping to plan many of this year’s events. “He's lectured to thousands. Douglass made an entire career, which is even relevant today, of agitating the American conscience.”
Born a slave in Talbot County in 1818, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (he later changed his last name to Douglass) was sent from Eastern Shore plantations to Baltimore around the age of 8 to be a house servant. At age 20, Douglass fled Baltimore to freedom, and became a revered author, diplomat and journalist dedicated to freeing slaves, fighting for equal rights for people of color and women, and for the acceptance of immigrants.
“He still remains a beacon of relevancy and a champion of significant causes of his era that roll right into our present day, so I think that he is a model, and he has ushered in a blueprint that is even yet relevant for the causes that are relevant today,” said Green, who is also chair of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture.
In November, President Donald J. Trump signed a bill to create a commission for Douglass’ bicentennial celebration, which is dedicated to developing initiatives and events to celebrate Douglass’ 200th birthday. (While his exact birth date is unknown, he chose to celebrate on Feb. 14.) People like Kenneth B. Morris Jr., Douglass’ great-great-great-grandson, who has been appointed to the commission, have been planning for years.
“This is a big accomplishment. … It feels amazing,” said Morris, adding that he’s humbled to know that a man born into slavery could have a legacy and words that still affect people 200 years later.
From his birthplace on the Eastern Shore to Baltimore and Washington, where he spent his last years, here’s a list of lectures, performances, exhibits and discussions happening throughout the region to celebrate Douglass’ legacy — which also appropriately coincide with Black History Month.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Exhibit Baltimore City Hall honors the 19th-century icon with a display of dozens of pieces of Douglass memorabilia, including photos of Douglass, his home and family, as well as with birth charts, quilts, maps and abolitionist documents — all which explore the orator’s time in Baltimore, and his involvement in the Underground Railroad, the Civil War and beyond. 8:30 a.m-4:30 p.m. Feb. 1 through March 14. Baltimore City Hall, North Gallery, 100 N. Holliday St. Free. For more information, email: email@example.com. baltimorecity.gov.
Frederick Douglass at 200 Yale American history professor, scholar and historian David Blight will speak on the life and legacy of Douglass and shed some expertise on the abolitionist ahead of the September publication of Blight’s latest biography, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.” 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7. Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. Free. mdhs.org. Registration is full, but to be added to the wait list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frederick Douglass Day It’s all about Douglass at the Lewis Museum for his 200th anniversary celebration, which will kick off with a children’s art and story hour with London Ladd, illustrator of “Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass.” There will also be readings of Douglass’ speeches by historical re-enactors; a lecture by John Stauffer, a professor of English and African and African American studies at Harvard University; and video presentations. Noon-4 p.m. Feb. 10. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, 830 E. Pratt St. Free. lewismuseum.org.
A Shakespeare Connection: Frederick Douglass, Ira Aldridge, and ‘Othello’ Shakespeare enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that Frederick Douglass has a connection of sorts to the English playwright. The abolitionist allegedly participated in a Shakespeare reading club and quoted “Othello” in his own writing, which is all the more reason for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Reading Club to commemorate Douglass’ birth with a drop-in lunchtime discussion. During their open house, they’ll also discuss the legacy of Ira Aldridge, an African-American actor who, like Douglass, rose to fame in Europe in the 1800s and often performed Shakespeare. 12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. Feb. 13. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 S. Calvert St. Free. chesapeakeshakespeare.com.
Baltimore’s Legends & Legacies Jubilee Visit Baltimore’s Black History Month celebration will host an afternoon of interactive and family-friendly activities to commemorate the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth and the city’s rich African American heritage and culture. Local singer Davon Fleming, a semifinalist on “The Voice” who is also now a consultant for the city, will perform, and more than a dozen exhibitors and participants will be on hand, including the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore’s Black Heritage Tours, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and the National Aquarium. And Douglass’ presence will be undeniable — the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum will unveil a new wax figure modeled after Douglass, and Steve Cole, a Frederick Douglass historic re-enactor, will embody the orator live. Noon-4 p.m. Feb 17. Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park, 1417 Thames St. baltimore.org.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Literary Forum & Book Fair Celebrate the art of storytelling, Douglass’ forte, at the bicentennial book fair, featuring an array of books of all topics,featured authors, publishers, publicists, literary agents, exhibits, and spoken word artists and performers. Noon-4 p.m. Feb. 24. Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum & Park, 1417 Thames St. Free. baltimore.org. RSVP at email@example.com.
Frederick Douglass Tours Exactly 180 years from Sept. 3, Douglass made his escape from Baltimore to freedom, according to his third autobiography, “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.” Lou Fields, president of the Baltimore African-American Tourism Council, will lead a tour tracing Douglass’ experience in Baltimore and his escape. By appointment only. Through November. $10-$20. For more information, contact Fields at 443-983-7974 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frederick Douglass presentation Actor and storyteller Bill Grimmette kicks off a national tour embodying Frederick Douglass with a history presentation on Douglass’ life and his experience as Talbot County’s native son. 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 12. The Academy Art Museum, 106 South St., Easton. $12-$15. academyartmuseum.org.
Wreath-laying ceremony Kick off Douglass’ birthday with a wreath-laying ceremony near the Frederick Douglass statue in front of the Talbot County Courthouse with guest speaker Lyndra Marshall, former chair of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture. Noon-1 p.m. Feb. 14. 11 N. Washington St. Free. fd200.org.
“Bent But Not Broken” exhibit Maryland artist Ulysses Marshall reimagines Frederick Douglass’ spirit through mixed-media compositions and colorful collages, depicting the triumphs, pain and hope of his life and the African-American experience. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays from Feb. 13 to May 19. There will be an opening reception 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 17. Banneker-Douglass Museum, 84 Franklin St., Annapolis. Free. bdmuseum.maryland.gov.
Our Bondage and Our Freedom: Frederick Douglass and Family in the Walter O. Evans Collection Douglass held many positions as an orator, essayist, politician and abolitionist, but author Celeste-Marie Bernier commemorates Douglass’ 200th anniversary by also highlighting his legacy as a family man. Using materials from the Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, Bernier will discuss how Douglass’ legacy and fight for freedom and justice continued through the efforts of his children. 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Feb. 23. Maryland State Legislative Services Building, Joint Hearing Room, 90 State Circle, Annapolis. Free. visitannapolis.org.
Saturday Family Day: Celebrating Frederick Douglass The Banneker-Douglass Museum celebrates its 34th anniversary along with the abolitionist who gave it its name, with guided tours, arts and craft activities for the family, and snacks. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Feb. 24. Banneker-Douglass Museum, 84 Franklin St. Free. bdmuseum.maryland.gov.
‘The Raid’: A Play about John Brown and Frederick Douglass In Idris Goodwin’s play “The Raid,” directed by Colin Hovde, Douglass and white abolitionist John Brown debate violence and pacifism, order and chaos, and slavery on the eve of Brown’s historical raid in Harpers Ferry, in what is now W.Va. 8 p.m. Feb. 8-10, 15-17, 22-24; March 1-3, 5, 8-10, 15-17. 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 18, 25; March 4, 11, 18. Anacostia Playhouse, 2020 Shannon Place, SE. Washington. $30-$40. theateralliance.com.
Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Birthday Kickoff Join the National Park Service and community partners for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Douglass’ birth with a host of dramatic performances, hands-on kids’ activities, musical performances and programs to honor Douglass and his connection to the Anacostia neighborhood, the location of one of his historic homes. Guest speakers will include Morris, the great-great-great grandson of Douglass and co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative; David Blight; author Leigh Fought and actor Phil Darius Wallace. Throughout the day. Feb. 17-18 at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site 1411 W. St. SE, Washington, DC, and the Anacostia Center at 1231 Good Hope Road, SE, Washington, DC. nps.gov.
Guided Tour of Douglass’ Anacostia estate Schedule a 30-minute tour around Cedar Hill, Douglass’ home in Washington where he spent his last years, from 1877 to 1895. Reservations are encouraged (Free for walkup; $1.50 fee applies for online registration). Standard tour for 1-10 people: 9 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:15 p.m., 3 p.m. 3:30 p.m., daily. Group tours for 11-60 people: 9:30 a.m., 10:45 a.m., 2 p.m. daily. 1411 W. St. SE. Washington. nps.gov.
More ways to celebrate Douglass’ legacy in his bicentennial year:
Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum The museum fills visitors in on the life of Douglass and his time working on the docks in Fells Point before his noteworthy escape to New York for freedom in 1832. A nearby sculpture, located near the docks, further commemorates Douglass’ former stomping grounds. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. $2-$5 admission. 1417 Thames St.
Douglass Place A group of Dallas Street properties in Fells Point, also known as “Douglass Place,” were purchased by Douglass in 1892 in hopes of renting to African-Americans. One of the properties, located at 524 S. Dallas St., has been restored and features an impressive collection of African-American art. And if you’re looking for a place to stay — it’s also available for rent through Airbnb and VRBO.
Wisdom Wall Stop by Warwick Avenue and West North Avenue for an Instagram-worthy photo of a modern mural of Frederick Douglass and five other influential and historical Marylanders, painted by artist Iandry Randriamandroso and local community members.
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