State and local officials honored the life and legacy of Frederick Douglass as they unveiled outdoor exhibits at the park on the Tuckahoe River named for him.
The Tuesday morning event at the Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe also launched Maryland’s second annual recognition of International Underground Railroad Month.
While the event focused on Douglass and Underground Railroad Month, current events in America were not ignored, including the monument honoring Confederates on the county’s courthouse grounds and ongoing demonstrations across the nation seeking equal justice for all.
“Maryland has a proud history, but also a complicated history,” Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford said. “After all it is the birthplace of great figures such as Harriet Tubman, who is synonymous with the Underground Railroad, and of course Frederick Douglass, for whom this park is named.
“But we know that in the course of history that these great figures in our history are famous because of what they had to endure and overcome,” he said. “They both were slaves here on the Eastern Shore and although they endured almost unimaginable challenges and trauma in their lifetime, they never gave up on gaining their freedom and helping others to do the same.
“And while Marylanders today can be proud of the role that our state undoubtedly has played in extending liberty and freedom to all Americans, we cannot ignore the fact that during this time in our nation’s history we were, in this state, a divided state,” Rutherford said. “While Maryland never seceded from the Union officially, there was plenty of Confederate sympathy in and around our state. In fact, not so far from here, there is a statue that unfortunately remains celebrating a group of Confederate soldiers in Maryland.
“Now while I have always been very vocal in my belief that we should not ignore history or run away from our past we must acknowledge the pain that still exists today and we must use our history as an opportunity that we now have… to have that long overdue conversation on race and to do a better job of accurately reflecting our history, particularly when it comes to the Civil War, the struggles of African-Americans in our state, and past attempts at reconciliation.
“Recognizing the significance of the Underground Railroad and dedicating this month to appreciating the significance of that era in teaching our younger generations, and not so young generations as well, is a wonderful and important step in that direction. But it is just one step.
“I will repeat that we do need to have that long 0ver-due conversation. And it will be difficult, there’s no question about that, but it needs to be had.
“Just as important, however, is recognizing the wrongness of those who sought to destroy our Union and the evil injustice against their fellow countrymen that fueled their actions,” Rutherford said. “I implore all of us, all Marylanders, all Americans, to look deeply within ourselves to acknowledge the work that is yet to be done that must be done so that our nation may finely be able to live up to the ideals of our founding and ensure liberty and justice for every American.”
Rutherford presented a governor’s citation recognizing September as International Underground Railroad Month in Maryland.
Kenneth B. Morris Jr., a great-great-great-great-grandson of Douglass and president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, spoke in a pre-recorded video. Morris also is a great-great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington.
The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives is “an abolitionist and anti-racist organization with a mission to build strong children and end systems of exploitation and oppression,” Morris said.
He said Douglass would not have been surprised by the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people of color nor by the deaths of George Floyd and many other Blacks “at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve us.
“Douglass saw enough in his lifetime. He saw mountains of injustice,” Morris said. “He saw so much injustice to know that repeatedly responding with surprise or confusion or disgust means that you’re not paying attention or ignoring what’s right in front of you.
“Knowing that injustice is there in front of you, what will you do?” he asked. Douglass would have recommended that people “agitate.”
“When incident after incident form patterns that tell a straightforward story, we have to listen,” Morris said. “(When) outcomes in health, education, criminal justice, housing, in every aspect of society tell a story, we have to listen, plan, and act.”
He cited an 1881 article in which Douglass said “that few evils are less accessible to the force of reason or more tenacious of life and power than a longstanding prejudice. He considered racism a moral disorder that distorts perception according to its own diseased imagination.
“If racism is indeed a kind of disease, an epidemic in this country, then what are the remedies we have to address it?” Morris asked. “Douglass said, ‘Slavery is indeed gone, but its shadow still lingers over the country and poisons more or less the moral atmosphere of all sections of the Republic.”
Douglass would have expressed his rage and anger over current events through words.
“If anyone ever understood the real power of words, it was Frederick Douglass. In fact, he risked his life to read and write…. My great ancestor used his voice, his pen, and his vote to effect change.
“This is an important election year and we need to use our voice, our keyboard, and our vote. We need to hold our elected officials accountable at the local, state, and federal level. We must demand that they take action to identify and eliminate policies that hold up systemic racism.
“I’ve been inspired by the peaceful protests. I’m encouraged by the diversity in age and race of the protesters,” Morris said. “All around the world people are declaring that black lives matter. And for those of you who are wondering, this is not a political statement. Yes, some leaders will politicize it, but it’s a statement about asserting the inherent value of our humanity. You either believe that all black lives matter or you don’t.
“One hundred and fifty years from now, when our descendants look back on this moment in time, what will they say about their great-great-great-grandparents? Will you have been on the right or wrong side of history?
“Frederick Douglass was on the right side of history. And this is why we honor him 202 years after his birth a stone’s throw away from where you sit today,” Morris said.
Corey W. Pack, president of the Talbot County Council, noted Douglass’ work for social justice. In addition to being an abolitionist, Douglass also supported women’s suffrage.
“While gathered here to recognize and pay tribute to Frederick Douglass, Talbot County’s most famous native son, as well as to celebrate the launch of International Underground Railroad Month, it is important to both recognize and celebrate the legacy left by Frederick Douglass, who exemplified courage and self-determination to free himself from bondage, illiteracy, and poverty to become a world renowned anti-slave activist and supporter of social justice, which still many cry out for today,” Corey W. Pack, president of the Talbot County Council, said.
Morris and Pack also paid homage to Eric Lowery, the longtime president of the Frederick Douglass Honor Society, who died earlier this year.
Program Open Space funds were used to buy the land for the park and adjacent wetlands were donated, providing more than 100 acres of open space along the Tuckahoe River.
Professor Dale Glenwood Green of Morgan State University presided over the program. Green has been involved with research concerning the Hill neighborhood in Easton, believed to be the oldest settlement of free blacks in the U.S.
Rev. Clarence A. Wayman of Morgan State University Memorial Chapel gave the opening and closing prayers. Wayman has familial connections to Talbot County, where several ancestors also served as pastors.
Friends in Faith entertained guests with several songs and Dfc. John E. Coleman of the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office sang the National Anthem.
The park is located at 13213 Lewistown Road near the town of Queen Anne.
This video is about 9 minutes long.