Moments before Wes Moore is sworn in as Maryland’s first Black governor, he will gather with other prominent Black leaders to commemorate the historic day. They’ll meet down the street from the State House at an Annapolis site where enslaved Africans once arrived on the shores of the United States.
In a quiet ceremony, closed to the public, the group will discuss the story of the city’s docks, one of five locations in Maryland that enslaved Africans first landed after the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s a sacred place,” Moore said Monday in an interview with The Baltimore Sun. “Being able to acknowledge the fact that those docks are blocks away from where I’m going to get sworn in — it’s important to be able to start the day with that.”
Moore will take his oath of office in the historic State House before noon Wednesday, then deliver his inaugural address to the public.
The earlier gathering at the docks, he said, is a way to “acknowledge the journey” that led to him becoming only the third elected Black governor in U.S. history. Virginia elected L. Douglas Wilder in 1990 and Massachusetts elected Deval Patrick in 2007.
In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization designated Annapolis as one of dozens of Middle Passage arrival sites across the country. In November, local officials unveiled a marker for City Dock downtown to commemorate the area as a “site of memory.”
City Dock is also home to a memorial that marks the name and place of arrival of Kunta Kinte, the enslaved African ancestor of “Roots” author Alex Haley.
Joining Moore will be newly sworn-in Attorney General Anthony Brown and former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, the most recent prior Democratic nominees for governor who many expected would be the ones to break the color barrier in Maryland’s top elected office. Brown, then serving as lieutenant governor, lost to Republican Larry Hogan in 2014, and Jealous lost during Hogan’s reelection campaign in 2018.
Also on hand Wednesday morning will be Michael Steele, the former Republican lieutenant governor and the first Black person elected to statewide office in Maryland; Boyd Rutherford, the outgoing Republican lieutenant governor, who is the third Black person to hold that role; and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume of Baltimore, who previously led the NAACP. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Democratic lieutenant governor who won her party’s nomination for governor but lost to Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich in 2002, will also be there.
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Moore described the group as “giants” whose shoulders he stood on during what was his first run for public office.
“The reason that we were able to break through a wall was because there were people who came before me who started already creating dents and cracks inside of that wall,” Moore said.
Giving a speech will be Sherrilyn Ifill, a former University of Maryland School of Law professor and former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a civil rights organization founded by Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, a native of Baltimore, was the first Black member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ifill, who moved 30 years ago to Baltimore to teach at the law school, said Monday in an interview that she wants to ensure there’s a recognition that “Maryland is very much still on a journey for progress,” one that is “not simply measured by personnel in office.”
“Maryland is the state where we’ve had so many extraordinary leaders and so many extraordinary Black leaders. Thurgood Marshall and [U.S. Rep.] Parren Mitchell and [lawyer] Juanita Jackson Mitchell and [U.S. Rep.] Elijah Cummings,” Ifill said. “And I think sometimes we may forget that Maryland is still a state with a very troubling history, and that the arc from Frederick Douglass sailing past Annapolis as an 8-year-old on the way to Baltimore City from enslavement on the Eastern Shore ... to the first Black governor of Maryland is a long journey, and it’s a significant one.”
Moore said he was proud of the bipartisan group and Ifill’s attendance, noting her “global” reputation, but also that she is a “Marylander through and through.”
French musician Frédéric Yonnet will also play “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a hymn sometimes called the Black national anthem, on the harmonica. Spoken word artist Lady Brion will recite a poem.
This article has been corrected to show that Sherrilyn Ifill is a 30-year Baltimore resident, rather than a native of the city. The Sun regrets the error.