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."
March is a good month to think about the new Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Eastern Maryland, the first national park site named after an African American woman. Harriet was born in March, made up her mind to flee slavery in March and eventually died in March in 1913 at the age of 91. When we heard about the creation of the new park, we decided we wanted to find "Harriet" and headed down to the Eastern Shore fully aware that the new visitor center had barely broken
By Mary Collins and Susan McElhinney
Mar 24, 2015 at 9:49 AM
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.”
A proposal to place statues of anti-slavery heroes Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the Maryland State House would add a new chapter to the history of Maryland as told through its iconic capitol 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.