For a couple from Kentucky, the Banneker-Douglass Museum (84 Franklin St., Annapolis) was the perfect venue for their wedding. It was held in the portion of the museum that had been the sanctuary of the Mount Moriah AME Church constructed in 1875 and remodeled in 1896. For the ceremony, the historic space was exquisitely decorated, including lace wall hangings and the spreading of rose petals down the aisle. The doors to Franklin Street were opened as requested by the couple so the bridal party and guests could enter and exit.
Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass are the men behind the name of the museum. Banneker (1731-1806) was born a freeman in Baltimore County, MD. He was an exceptional man with a love of knowledge, famous for his expertise as a mathematician, inventor, and astronomer. He was also known for farming to help feed the troops during the Revolutionary War and as an advocate for civil rights.
Douglass (1818-1895) was born into slavery on the Eastern Shore in Talbot County, MD. Learning to read opened up new opportunities for him and shaped him into the influential man that he would become. In his words, “knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom.” He wrote several autobiographies – the first in 1845 centering on his years as a slave and later he documented his escape to a life of freedom. He dedicated himself to working and writing as an abolitionist and preacher. Exhibits and books detailing the many other accomplishments of these important men can be found in the museum.
After a successful community-based campaign in 1973 to preserve the church on the property, it was included as a site on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In 1984, the addition was opened to serve as the State of Maryland’s official museum of African American heritage.
In the entry hall hangs a beautiful stained glass wall sculpture mounted on what had been an exterior brick wall of the church. It was made with pieces of stained glass that were packed away in boxes for many years. Artist Loring Cornish, a Baltimore native utilized fragments of glass to create a 15-foot high mosaic which was unveiled in 2014 to honor the museum’s 30th anniversary. This work of art is entitled “Peace Be Within These Walls.”
Visitors will view fascinating permanent and temporary exhibits, the reading room and resources of the Sylvia Gaither Garrison Library, and the original sanctuary of the church. The sanctuary’s white walls contrast dramatically with the deep mahogany woodwork. Back in the day, the church choir stood in the balcony in front of the stunning stained glass windows facing Franklin Street.
The Banneker-Douglas Museum is a shining star located just steps from Church Circle in the heart of Annapolis. You will be welcomed with open arms and leave with captivating information related to the museum and the history of what lies within its walls.
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Images courtesy of Lois Villemaire