EASTON — The Frederick Douglass Honor Society, the town of Easton and the Talbot County Free Library will celebrate the life and legacy of Talbot County’s most famous native son, Frederick Douglass, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28.
The annual Frederick Douglass Day celebration will feature a parade, welcome ceremony, musical block party, activities and learning experiences for children, a marketplace filled with food and retail vendors, exhibits, a historic walking tour and a lecture by keynote speaker Celeste-Marie Bernier.
Born into slavery in 1818, Douglass soon learned the value of reading, which gave him a profound understanding of the principles of his country. At the age of 12, he walked into Knight’s Bookstore holding 50 cents, saved from his shoe-shining earnings, to buy a copy of The Columbian Orator. It was the first thing he ever owned.
The dialogues opened his eyes to the importance of individual liberty. He later wrote of the experience, “Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever.” Douglass often credited this singular work for his ability to deliver speeches, create a sense of presence and influence audiences.
Douglass stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall, a broad-shouldered man with wide-set eyes and a deep baritone voice. While working in a shipyard in Baltimore City as a caulker and still going by his original surname of Bailey, Douglass met Anna Murray, the daughter of enslaved parents (Mary and Bambarra Murray of Caroline County) and the first of her siblings to be born free after her parents were manumitted.
Murray had moved to Baltimore City to take employment as a domestic helper at the age of 17. Managing to save most of her earnings, she was prepared financially to start the new life they envisioned as husband and wife. But Douglass made it clear he would not marry Anna until he was free.
Together, they planned Douglass’ escape. He borrowed a freed man’s protection certificate and wore a sailor’s outfit — sewn by Murray — as his disguise. At the age of 20, he made his way to New York City by train. Most likely, the ticket was bought with Murray’s savings. Once Douglass arrived in New York, he sent for Murray.
A prominent black minister, the Rev. J.W.C. Pennington, married the couple on Sept.15, 1838. According to their daughter Rosetta Douglass, Murray brought nearly everything the couple needed to start their life together: a feather bed with linens and pillows, dishes with cutlery and a full trunk of clothing for herself.
Douglass was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but after escaping slavery, he used assumed names to avoid detection. Arriving in New Bedford, Mass., Douglass took the surname Johnson. Later, he decided there were too many Johnsons in the area to distinguish himself. His host, Nathan Johnson, suggested he choose the name “Douglass,” taking it from a character in Sir Walter Scott’s poem “The Lady of the Lake.” The name is derived from Scottish Gaelic and means “dark man.”
Anna Murray Douglass found work performing menial tasks and household duties until she began having children. She played a pivotal role in Douglass’ life and tirelessly paved the way for his lengthy travels, managed the household, guests and finances, raised their children and faithfully maintained the secrets of their working in the Underground Railroad.
Douglass wrote hundreds of letters and numerous books, but little was revealed about Anna. Likely, Douglass withheld many details of his escape to protect her. Rosetta Douglass Sprague wrote of her mother, “She drew around herself a certain reserve, one that forbade any very near approach to her by her contemporaries or by modern historians.” Fortunately, history now is beginning to take an interest in the quiet, imperturbably Anna Murray Douglass.
Frederick Douglass Day keynote speaker Celeste-Marie Bernier is a professor of U.S. history at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She is the author of more than 20 published and forthcoming single and co-authored/edited books, essay collections, special issues and scholarly editions, as well as over 35 essays and book chapters.
Her published and forthcoming books include “African American Visual Arts,” “Characters of Blood,” “Suffering and Sunset,” “Stick to the Skin,” “If I Survive,” “Living Parchments” and “Back into the Background.”
Bernier has been working on the life and works of the Douglass family, with a special emphasis on Murray’s role, for over two decades. She is completing a literary biography of Frederick Douglass for Yale University Press and finalizing a three-volume work, “The Anna Murray-Frederick Douglass Family Biography and Writings.”
Bernier’s new edition of Douglass’ “My Bondage and My Freedom” will be published in the World’s Classics Series by Oxford University in November, and the co-edited edition of “Life and Times” is due for publication with Oxford University Press in 2020 or 2021. Bernier’s lecture will be held at the Talbot County Free Library’s Main Meeting Room at 1 p.m. and followed by a question-and-answer session.
Douglass was a self-taught and self-made man. His perseverance, intellect and drive turned his ideas and visions into eternal accomplishments, earning him a place in history and the hearts of all people of goodwill. An abolitionist, statesman, reformer and one of the most influential lecturers and authors in American history, his story continues to inspire people around the world. “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” named one of the “88 Books That Shaped America” by the Library of Congress, has helped change the course of the U.S. abolitionist movement and continues to change lives to this day.
All Frederick Douglass Day events are free and open to the public. The six-hour celebration will start with a street parade at 10 a.m. (Glenwood Avenue to Washington Street), concluding at the Talbot County Courthouse. The welcome ceremony on the courthouse lawn at 10:30 a.m. will feature guest speakers, a recitation by Terron Quailes and music by local school bands.
The Children’s Village, running from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Talbot County Free Library’s front lawn, will offer little ones free games, prizes, books, stickers, bubbles, photo opportunities and much more.
The music block party, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dover and West streets, will showcase young talent on the Eastern Shore, including violinists, Torie Gomez, Three Steps Forward, Javion Jones, Annie Sanford, Lane Morgan and DJ Allen Butler .
Music will range from gospel to hip-hop, and everything in between. The marketplace, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dover and West streets, will feature vendors serving regional foods, a bounty from the Chesapeake Bay, beverages and desserts; arts; retail vendors with crafts, jewelry and more; and local organizations providing information and volunteer opportunities.
For more information, visit FrederickDouglassDay.com online and follow the Frederick Douglass Day’s Facebook page.
The Frederick Douglass Honor Society is dedicated to developing programs that continue the Douglass legacy of human rights, education, personal growth and involvement of citizens. Their goal is to honor Douglass in his birthplace, Talbot County, where his experiences in his youth — both positive and negative — helped form his character, intellect and determination.