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University of Maryland Dedicates Frederick Douglass Square to Honor Maryland's Native Son

November 18, 2015

Crystal Brown 301-405-4621

71/2-foot-tall bronze Douglass statue unveiled,
memorializing Douglass as an enduring role model for social justice

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland dedicated a memorial on campus to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a son of Maryland who has come to represent America’s quest for freedom, liberty and the rights of all people in a democracy. 

The square is a commemorative public space centered on UMD’s Hornbake Plaza, a prominent campus location and hub of student activity. The square features stone pavers and a vertical corten wall, both engraved to highlight Douglass’ words. The wall is built in planters filled with native Irish and Maryland plants to represent Douglass’ roots in Maryland and Irish supporters abroad. In the center, an 71/2-foot-tall bronze statue portrays an urgent and youthful Douglass in Ireland, created by renowned sculptor Andrew Edwards and inspired by the Frederick Douglass Ireland Project

At the formal dedication and unveiling ceremony, UMD officials commemorated Douglass’ life and legacy, including University President Wallace D. Loh; Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities Bonnie Thornton Dill; and Distinguished University Professor and internationally recognized expert on slavery, Ira Berlin. In addition, special guests from Douglass’ family, Nettie Washington Douglass (great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington) and Kenneth B. Morris Jr. (great-great-great-grandson), paid tribute to Douglass.   

UMD President Wallace Loh with special guests from Frederick Douglass' family, Nettie Washington Douglass (great-great-granddaughter of Frederick Douglass and great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington) and Kenneth B. Morris Jr. (great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass). “Frederick Douglass’ soaring words on racial justice and the transformative power of education resonate as fully today as they did in his lifetime,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. 

For more than five years, a group of campus leaders called the North Stars worked to secure funding and approve architectural and landscape designs for the square. The total cost of the square amounted to $575,000, which included funding from UMD, private donations, the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture, and the Maryland Historical Trust, which is part of the Maryland Department of Planning. 

“Frederick Douglass Square was created to teach what Douglass has advocated, as well as what he continues to inspire us to do,” said Distinguished University Professor Ira Berlin, who spearheaded the North Stars group. “We memorialize Frederick Douglass in the center of campus in a space that is both classroom and monument. It is a place to contemplate and celebrate the ideals that Douglass exemplified.”

In addition to the square, the work of Frederick Douglass is intertwined into the research and curriculum of the university in many ways. UMD Libraries houses an interpretive exhibition featuring the images and works of Frederick Douglass. The exhibition, “Frederick Douglas: Scholarship and Legacy,” provides insight into Frederick Douglass’ life and legacy, and is organized by three themes that exemplify Douglass scholarship at UMD, including Mark Leone’s archaeological investigations into Douglass and other enslaved people in Maryland; Ira Berlin’s scholarship on the history of slavery that helps one see Douglass as an international human rights leader; and Robert Levine’s cultural and historical scholarship on 19th-century American literature that illuminates Douglass’ role as a dynamic orator and brilliant writer. The exhibition includes a digital installation featuring Douglass portraits and quotes, as well as archaeological artifacts from the early 19th-century plantation landscape that he remembered as a child. 

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818. He was later sent to a family in Baltimore, where he secretly taught himself to read and write. After a failed escape attempt in 1836, he eventually fled to New York two years later, changed his name to Frederick Douglass, and joined the abolitionist movement to end slavery. 

In 1845, Douglass traveled to Ireland focused on the abolition of slavery in the American south, however left with a much broader perspective. After meeting Irish Catholics who were also born into servitude and the “Great Emancipator” of Irish Catholics, Daniel O’Connell, Douglass became an advocate for the liberty and equality of all, whatever their race, sex, religion or nationality. Douglass became an internationally famous advocate for human rights. He lectured throughout the North and Europe, wrote a series of autobiographies and published a weekly newspaper. 

Four decades after he escaped slavery, Douglass returned to Talbot County. He met with his former owners’ family, visited his birthplace, addressed crowds at the courthouse, and in 1877, dedicated the new Asbury Methodist Episcopal and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal church buildings in Easton, Maryland. Still, he continued the fight for equality and the rights of black people, women, Native Americans, immigrants and working peoples. He died in 1895.  

Additional information on the statue and a statement from the artist can be found here