Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey Douglass, a native son of Maryland, has been in the news recently. Douglass, whom many historians consider one of America’s greatest writers and speakers, was born near Hillsboro in Talbot County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in February 1818. He was born into slavery and later escaped to become an abolitionist. He died on Feb. 20, 1895, in Washington, D.C.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, the life and times of Douglass were a key focus in a multimedia performance by music and spoken word artist Bomani Armah at the Carroll Arts Center.
The performance is part of Carroll Arts Center “School’s Out Art’s In” series that prioritizes youth education, according to Carroll County Arts Council Executive Director Lynne Griffith.
Griffith, an internationally acclaimed musician, has been credited by many in the community for bringing fresh, innovative, educational and relevant programming to the arts center in her first year.
Armah goes by the stage name Baba Bomani. His performance for about 75 people was an upbeat, interactive multimedia performance that emphasized audience interaction. Indeed, for much of the performance, members of the audience was on their feet actively participating in the show.
In his hour-long presentation, Armah first explored a “fun process of hip hop song writing while comparing the art form to the practical skill of essay writing,” in the words of a description found on a promotional website for the performer. He explained in a musical and lyrical hip hop performance, the writing process: Pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.
He called his writing process the special “Bomani Armah wRiting System” (B.A.R.S.). The audience is “encouraged to find and create art that reflects their lives and aspirations.”
Armah utilized this segment of his performance as a springboard to tell “the story of Frederick Douglass, as well as the story of the evolution of American music starting with the continent of Africa, moving on to Scott Joplin and ragtime music of the 1920s, then culminating in today’s hip hop music.”
Douglass was the most photographed person of the 19th century, Armah said. As an abolitionist Douglass felt it important to repeatedly portray African-Americans in the most-positive light, Armah said.
In a segment called, “Rhetoric just like Frederick,” Armah brought Douglass to life as a writer, journalist and orator. This was followed by what Armah referred to as the “Three rules of creative writing,” “Do not edit in your head.” The only answer that is wrong is the answer that is blank.” And “Writers don’t make mistakes. We make discoveries.”
After the show, many agreed with community leader Billy Lyve, who found the performance to be inspirational and exciting. After the show Lyve, Griffith, and Community Media Center executive director Richard Turner, quickly huddled with Armah in a discussion as to how and when to have Armah return to Westminster for another performance.
The life and times of Douglass is a recurring theme in Carroll County. Yet, much of the history of Douglass’ legacy in Maryland has been somewhat overlooked — except in Carroll County.
Douglass visited Carroll County in October 1870. The famed national leader and orator spoke at the Odd Fellow’s Hall, 140 East Main Street. According to historian Nancy Warner’s account in her book, “Carroll County Maryland — A History 1837-1976,” an Oct. 13, 1870, an American Sentinel newspaper article reported that his address was well-received.
John Muller, the author of “Frederick Douglass in Washington, D.C.: The Lion of Anacostia” (2012) visited Westminster on Nov. 4, 2019, and gave a walking tour and lecture on “Frederick Douglass in Westminster.”
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On Saturday, June 27, 2009, re-enactor Michael Crutcher Sr., of Kentucky, one of the nation’s leading scholars on Douglass, gave an interpretive presentation about Douglass’ 1870 visit to Westminster at the 7th commemoration ceremonies of Corbit’s Charge in Westminster.
Meanwhile, Gov. Wes Moore was sworn into office on Wednesday, “alongside his family, new Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller and state lawmakers inside the State House’s Senate chamber in Annapolis,” according to several articles in the Baltimore Sun, including “Wes Moore takes oath as Maryland’s first Black governor, reflects on state’s path from slavery to his inauguration,” by Sam Janesch and Hannah Gaskill.
At his swearing-in ceremony, Moore placed “his hand on a Bible once owned by abolitionist Frederick Douglass, (and) took his oath of office Wednesday to become Maryland’s 63rd governor, the state’s first and the country’s only current Black chief executive …”
CBS Baltimore reported, “Douglass, a Maryland native, received the Bible from members of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C… [in 1889. At the time, it was] one of the oldest Black churches in the district. It was presented to Douglass as he prepared to travel to Haiti to serve as President Benjamin Harrison’s United States resident minister and consul general until July 1891.
“Douglass was a proud Marylander and as your next governor, I will work every day to carry on his legacy of fighting for justice and equality,” Moore said, according to the CBS Baltimore article.
“I’m not just an admirer, but someone who is a true connoisseur of his life, of his teachings, of his writings,” Moore told The Washington Post. “And I’ve wondered what he would think about this moment, particularly with his life, with his sacrifice, with his frustrations.”
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.