Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh commemorated the start of Black History Month with a celebration honoring the life, legacy and 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass on Thursday, February 01, 2018. Mayor Pugh began the program by recognizing some of Douglass’s many achievements.
“He celebrated the life and legacy of Baltimore,” she mentioned, as she spoke of Douglass’s contributions to the city, many of which can still be seen and appreciated today. Mayor Pugh also recognized the importance of celebrating Black History. “If you don’t know your history,” she warned, “you won’t know where you’re going.”
Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. After overcoming horrific obstacles, he would eventually escape to freedom and become a famous orator, abolitionist, and writer, penning three autobiographies before his death in 1895. Douglass held several political appointments and toured the country giving lectures topics that ranged from the abolition of slavery to women’s rights. He is known as one of the most intelligent minds of his time.
President and CEO of Living Classrooms Foundation James Piper Bond introduced students from Crossroads Charter School, who shared some of Douglass’s more noteworthy quotes and essays they wrote themselves noting how inspired they are by Douglass’s achievements. Lively and well spoken, the students really brought life to Douglass’s words.
City Council President Jack Young encouraged the young people to remember Douglass as they set goals and worked toward them.
“Dream big,” he told them. “You can be whatever you want.” Comptroller Joan Pratt also had words of wisdom for the audience. “We should all take time to educate ourselves on the many accomplishments of African Americans. There is so much that we can learn from our history.”
A bronze statue of Frederick Douglass standing next to a student and a stack of books by artist and sculptor Joseph Sheppard was unveiled during the celebration as a tribute to Douglass’ continuous quest for education.
“The inspiration for this statue was simple,” Sheppard remarked. “Frederick Douglass believed that once a man learned to read, he was forever free.”
Sheppard has been an artist for 60 years. His wife, Rita St. Clair designed the interior of Baltimore’s City Hall Rotunda, the very location where the event was being held.
When asked about his lifelong career, Sheppard laughed and said, “I’m an artist because I can’t do anything else! What else would I be good at?”
The bronze statue of Douglass and the student will be featured at an art exhibition in the City Hall Rotunda.
Music was provided by the Dunbar High School Jazz Band and the ceremony ended the way every good birthday party should— with the cutting of a commemorative birthday cake and singing.
This event was the kickoff of an entire month of events and festivities recognizing the life of Frederick Douglass.
Later the same evening, Mayor Pugh celebrated the opening of two art exhibitions featuring artists Nathaniel K. Gibbs and Lawrence Hurst, both graduates of Frederick Douglass High School.
Among the activities scheduled are lectures, panel discussions and seminars at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, lectures at the Maryland Historical Society, art exhibitions, concerts and museum tours. This event was just the first several birthday parties being held in and around Baltimore during February in Frederick Douglass’s honor.