Frederick Douglass Community Day in Annapolis celebrates abolitionist, African-American history

Joan M.E. Gaither leaned over a colorful patchwork quilt spread on a table at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis Sunday.

Pictures of Frederick Douglass, his quotes and a map of his homes were interwoven with beads, black-eyed Susans and the Maryland and American flags. Museum visitors were invited to pull up a chair, pick up a sewing needle and add their own touches to the story quilt.

“This is the beginning of Frederick Douglass’s journey and legacy,” said Gaither, a fiber artist who taught art for 44 years in Baltimore, in Howard County and at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

At the museum’s Frederick Douglass Community Day — a celebration of the abolitionist’s legacy between Juneteenth and the Fourth of July — Gaither said the quilt posed a profound question to all onlookers: “Where does your journey and legacy begin?”

The Rev. Tamara England Wilson, vice chair of the Maryland Commission of African American History and Culture, who was helping sew the quilt, was most impressed by its uniqueness and creativity on display.

“It’s our history,” she said, “being part of a community, making a difference, seeing people come together.”

Near the front door, Sean and Latonya Montague of Ethnicities LLC sold T-shirts, mugs and sweatshirts printed with images of Douglass and 11 others. They included Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American female poet, and Benjamin Banneker, the Oella-born mathematician and astronomer.

Frederick Douglass re-enactor Nathan Richardson recited Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech, which he said still serves as “a call for us to contemplate the holiday before we celebrate it.”

“The whole spirit of it asks our nation to live up to the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal and are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said Richardson of Hampton Roads, Va.

Daniel Bates of Fort Washington picked a different Douglass speech, reciting “My Slaved Experience in Maryland.” It’s his favorite because of the way the orator laid bare how it felt to be enslaved and the hypocrisy of those Northerners blaming slaves for not casting off their own chains, while abiding the slavery in the South.

The 16-year-old’s favorite line: “Who are these that are asking for manhood in the slave, and who say that he has it not, because he does not rise?”

“Some people don’t know who Frederick Douglass is,” he said. “It’s important to let people know about the contributions he made, not just to African Americans, but to all Americans.”

His father, Wendell Bates, brimmed with pride looking at his son, who wore a suit for the occasion.

“It’s always good to see your child do well, sharing his gift and love of history with anyone who cares to listen,” he said. “It does a father proud.”

Beryle Hall, president of the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, was mourning the recent death of her mother. But the number of young people at the museum Sunday filled her with joy, she said.

Hall danced at the Community Day celebration and read from “Words Set Me Free, The Story of Young Frederick Douglass,” a picture book that chronicles his life.

“I’m just having a ball,” said Hall, 68, of Calvert County. “I’m here to celebrate Frederick Douglass and support the museum. The museum is here … to make people aware of why we’re here, to educate and entertain. ”

Sixteen of the children came with Janae Jones, 28, who brought a group enrolled in Baltimore’s YouthWorks summer jobs program to the museum.

Jones works for Team Triumphant, a youth development nonprofit that introduces city children to new experiences outside the classroom.

She wanted them to grasp the contributions Douglass and other black heroes had made to Maryland and the U.S., and understand why honoring them was important.

“I wanted to get them here, get them engaged in history and culture,” she said. “I think it was really good for them.”

Odessa Ellis said she brought her Sunday school class of 6- to 10-year-olds from nearby Asbury United Methodist Church to the event, “so they could learn their history, who they are and why they’re here in the U.S.”

“All they know is we were slaves,” she said. “I want to give them the correct perspective.”

Arianna Melton, 21, and her Play On Purpose Inc.’s Freedom School colleagues led a Harambee session and hyped each speaker and reader with chants and clapping.

“Coming together and supporting each other is important,” Melton said.

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