Maryland’s Board of Public Works voted 3-0 Wednesday to approve a contract to erect bronze statues in the State House of two slaves who fled Maryland for freedom and became abolitionist heroes.
The board — which is composed of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Democratic Comptroller Peter Franchot and Democratic Treasurer Nancy Kopp — approved a contract to design and install statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the Old House of Delegates Chamber.
The state Department of General Services recommended The Christman Co. of Sterling, Va., be awarded the $575,000 contract to complete the work within 390 days. The company will use a sculptor from the Brooklyn, N.Y., firm StudioEIS, which designed a statue of George Washington in the State House. The project includes “structural and potential infrastructure modifications to accommodate the new statues.”
In a statement, House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said the statues will expand how Maryland depicts its history.
“The Maryland State House tells the story of our state and our country," Busch said. "But there has been a critical component missing inside the walls of the State House: the important contributions of African-Americans to that story. These statues will fill that missing gap and I'm pleased to see this project moving forward."
Del. R. Julian Ivey, a Prince George’s Democrat, asked the board to delay the contract, citing a lack of minority business participation in the deal.
“If the state of Maryland is going to honor Ms. Tubman and Mr. Douglass, we need to do it the right way,” Ivey wrote in a letter to the board.
His concerns were shared by Franchot, who lamented the state would not be using a Maryland firm.
“Couldn’t we find a very talented sculptor right here in Maryland?” Franchot asked.
General Service Secretary Ellington Churchill explained that state officials — including leaders of the General Assembly — wanted a design for the sculptures that would be consistent with the existing statue of Washington.
Tubman and Douglass were born into slavery in the 19th century on the Eastern Shore. After escaping, both became vocal advocates for abolition. Tubman is also known for her efforts to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad. Douglass became a writer and a diplomat.
Ivan Schwartz, founder and director of StudioEIS, said he plans to bring a series of suggested designs next month when he comes to Annapolis to meet with the general services department and the Maryland State Archives.
Schwartz said he goes to great lengths to ensure his firm’s statues, which can weigh around 400 pounds, are historically accurate.
“You have to do it well,” he said. “There’s a very high level of skill and craft. In terms of representation, we try to go back to source material. I’ve measured George Washington’s clothing. I’ve photographed some of Frederick Douglass’ clothing.”
In recent weeks, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has railed against the slow pace of work on the statues contract. Miller said he has been asking the Hogan administration to move ahead. Last week, Miller told his colleagues in the Senate chamber he considered the delay in installing the statues “an example of government at its worst.”
“I’ve been asking for them for two years,” Miller said. “They were supposed to be ready and installed in March. They tell me it’s going to be another year. What kind of nonsense is that?”
Miller said he wants to see the anti-slavery pioneers honored as Washington, the country’s first president, is in the State House.
“Frederick Douglass was here right in this chamber,” Miller said. “I want them up and I don’t want to wait another year. It’s as simple as that. … Next year’s too late.”
Douglass spoke in the Senate chamber in 1874.
Miller is a Calvert County Democrat who has led the Senate for 33 years. He said he wants students to see the statues when they take tours of the building.
“We want a place where students walk from the Senate chamber, have the picture taken with George Washington, walk over to the House chamber and have their picture taken with Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, which is important because — guess what — Maryland rejected the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendment,” Miller said. “They denied those rights, but we want to make sure people understand where we were then and where we are today.”
Maryland approved the 13th Amendment, which prohibits slavery, in 1865 — but only after the state's 1862 ratification of the so-called "shadow" 13th Amendment, which attempted to lock slavery into the U.S. Constitution. Maryland did not ratify the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, and the 15th Amendment, which ensures the right of black men to vote, until 1973, more than a century after they became law.
Miller and Busch first called for the statues of Tubman and Douglass to be built in 2016.
Speaking at the Board of Public Works, Franchot, a rival of Miller’s, invoked the Senate president’s earlier support of keeping a statue at the State House of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney, who authored the Dred Scott decision holding that black people have no civil rights under the U.S. Constitution.
That statue was removed in 2017 after Hogan reversed his position on the issue. Busch had called for its removal, while Miller said he did not support the decision, but would not try to stop it.