There are so many reasons to visit the Maryland State House in Annapolis, and now there are two more. Statues of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were unveiled on February 10, 2020, in the very room where the Maryland State Constitution of 1864 was ratified and slavery was abolished. Research Archivist at the Maryland State Archives, Maya Davis, was part of the curatorial team. Through her work at the Archives and the Legacy of Slavery project, she was able to share about how this project came to fruition, as well as details about the lives of Douglass and Tubman. Both were born into slavery in Maryland, both achieved their own self-emancipation, and both went on to work tirelessly to ensure freedom for many other enslaved individuals throughout America.
The Old House of Delegates Chamber is their home within the State House. Harriet Tubman, born Araminta “Minty” Ross, is depicted as 42 years old and Frederick Douglass, born as Frederick Bailey, as 46 years old, the ages they were when slavery was abolished in Maryland. Each statue is made of bronze and weighs approximately 500 lbs. The floor of the House Chamber had to be reinforced as part of their installation to hold the weight and to allow them to be in areas that are completely accessible to the public. You can stand next to them, touch them, take your picture with them and interact with them on a personal level. StudioEIS, based in Brooklyn, NY is responsible for their creation, the same studio that created the statues of George Washington and Molly Ridout that are in the Old Senate Chamber. Multiple artists were involved in bringing these figures to life. Both statues were based on photographs.
While there were many to choose from for Frederick Douglass, as he is notable for being the most photographed American from the 19th Century, there are only a few known photographs of Harriet Tubman. The picture chosen for her is newly-discovered, making this the first sculptural depiction based on this photograph. Another interesting note is that Frederick Douglass’ hands were actually live-cast from his great-great-great-grandson, Ken Morris Jr.
These new exhibits share well-known information about Frederick Douglass as a leader in the national abolitionist movement while sharing lesser-known facts about his visiting the Maryland State House in 1874 when he recited George Washington’s 1783 resignation speech as Commander-in-Chief, the speech that is currently displayed in the lobby. Of course, most are familiar with Harriet Tubman’s work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, but many don’t know that she is the first woman to lead a military expedition at the Combahee River in South Carolina which led to the liberation of over 700 enslaved people.
After spending time with these heroic figures, the piece that stays with me is an excerpt from an 1868 letter from Douglass to Tubman, which reads in part,
“…The difference between us is very marked…I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, ‘God bless you,’ has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism…”
These two new additions to the State House are not to be missed. More information about visiting the State House, as well as this new exhibit and biographies of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman can be found at: