ANNAPOLIS — The state of Maryland now houses life-size statues of two of its most influential natives on government property: Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.
Both bronze statues will forever stand on red-colored carpet inside the old House chamber in the State House.
Tubman’s statue stands at her actual height of 5 feet and Douglass’ at 6’1″. StudioEIS, the New York City-based company which completed the work, also highlighted each person’s age, Tubman at age 42 and Douglass age 46.
Chris Haley, who works for the Maryland State Archives and nephew of “Roots” author Alex Haley, called the statues on state government property “monumental.”
“Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass are arguably to be the most known historic [and] significant figures to civil rights, human rights in all of our history,” said Haley, the director of The Legacy of Slavery in Maryland at the archives. “They contributed to our history and they … have every right to be here just like those Europeans [framed in photos in the State House] who founded this nation on the backs of persons of color.”
According to a brief description of the project, work began in November 2016 through the late House Speaker Michael A. Busch and former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. The Maryland House Trust, chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, formally adopted the idea that same month.
The state archives and state Department of General Services collaborated to develop the project and create the statues, which are based on what Tubman and Douglass would look like in November 1864, the month Maryland abolished slavery.
Although short in stature, Tubman helped free hundreds of slaves from South Carolina to New York, especially during the Civil War in the 1860s and thanks to the underground railroad.
Tubman, born in Dorchester County, died of pneumonia in March 1913 at the age of 93.
As for Douglass, he became a free man 26 years prior to Maryland abolishing slavery when he escaped from slavery in Baltimore in 1838. He was already a well-known abolitionist throughout the country and even lived overseas in England and Scotland.
Douglass, born in Talbot County circa 1818, doesn’t have a known date of birth because he was born into slavery. He suffered a massive heart attack and died in 1895 in Washington, D.C.
Finding photos of Douglass served as one of the easier tasks because he was the most photographed person in the 19th century, said Catherine Arthur, senior curator and director of Maryland Commission on Artistic Property with the archives.
Tubman wasn’t, but a photo of her was discovered by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Library of Congress.
“The sculpture of Harriet Tubman is the first sculptural representation of her at this young in age,” Arthur said. “Frederick Douglass recognized the power of his persona and how he depicted himself to further the cause of erasing racism. It is such a historic moment to finally give these two individuals who fought hard and risked their lives in support for all Marylanders.”
A dedication ceremony took place Monday inside the State House which included the attendance of the descendants and relatives of both Tubman and Douglass.
“Thank God for the state of Maryland for really investing in this opportunity to put Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in front of the world,” Michele Jones Galvin, a Syracuse, New York, native and the great-great-great-grandniece of Harriet Tubman, said in an interview before the ceremony. “This is something that should have been done decades ago, but we’re just grateful this is being done now. It is quite amazing to say to yourself, ‘My gosh. I am related to Harriet Tubman.’ It is quite astonishing and quite heartfelt. We all just want to promote her legacy as best we can.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the state’s first African-American and first woman to be the presiding leader in the House of Delegates, read a letter Douglas wrote to Tubman in 1868, which compared how Douglass fought for justice during the day and received praise among many, while “the midnight sky and the sunlit stars have been the witness of [Tubman’s] devotion to freedom and of your heroine.”
“The statues are reminders that our laws aren’t always right or just, but there’s always room for improvement,” Jones said. “We have to critically evaluate our laws [and] ask ourselves if we are complicit in any injustice and decide what we are willing to risk for a more perfect union.”