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The Old House Chamber in the State House, where legislative leaders want to place statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
The Old House Chamber in the State House, where legislative leaders want to place statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch are calling for statues of abolitionist leaders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to be placed in the State House.

The two Democratic leaders of the General Assembly proposed the move in a letter to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Gov. Larry Hogan's designee as chairman of the State House Trust. Miller and Busch are also members of the trust, which oversees the operations of Maryland's capitol and grounds.

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The presiding officers told Rutherford that "it is time to add the contributions of two prominent Marylanders . . . to the interpretation and history of the State House."

Hogan, a Republican, quickly agreed.

"Governor Hogan is proud to already honor both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass with statues and portraits in Government House, and he and Lt. Governor Rutherford would gladly support additional honors in the State House as well," said spokesman Doug Mayer.

Government House is the governor's residence and not normally open to the public.

Both Tubman and Douglass were born into slavery on the Eastern Shore. Both escaped bondage and became vocal advocates for abolition. Douglass was a prominent advocate and writer. Tubman was known for her efforts to help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad.

Miller and Busch proposed that the statues be placed in the recently restored Old House Chamber, a part of the original State House that dates back to the 1770s. They said such placement would be appropriate because that chamber was restored to the appearance of an era roughly contemporary with Tubman's and Douglass' contribution to the United States.

Miller and Busch noted that it was in that room that Maryland abolished slavery in the state in 1864 and where it rejected the Civil War amendments to the Constitution that extended civil rights to the freed slaves.

"The thousand of schoolchildren and visitors who come to the State House would have an opportunity to learn of these great Marylanders and the history of that time in the room where these events occurred," they wrote.

The legislative leaders' proposal would further dilute the pro-Southern flavor of the State House that took shape in the decades following the Civil War. The state's leaders at that time commissioned the statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney that still sits on the State House grounds.

In recent years, there have been many calls for the removal of the statue, which honors the author of the Dred Scott decision holding that blacks have no civil rights protected by the Constitution.

In the 1990s, state leaders sought to balance that out. They erected a memorial to Thurgood Marshall, a Marylander who became the nation's first African-American Supreme Court justice, on Lawyers Mall across from the State House.

The Old Senate Chamber, also recently restored, includes a statue of George Washington. The commander of the Continental Army resigned his commission in that room in 1783 in an act that symbolically asserted civilian authority over the military.

Colin Byrd of Greenbelt sent a letter to Miller and Busch in June advocating a Tubman statue. Byrd welcomed their decision but objected to the proposed location.

"Mr. Douglass and Ms. Tubman deserve more than to be recognized in a relatively small room that is now so obscure and infrequently visited," he wrote. "They are worthy of more public recognition, and I hope and trust that Lt. Gov. Rutherford and Gov. Hogan will consider this and ultimately decide to recognize them outside of the State House, for all to see."

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