EASTON — A new Frederick Douglass mural was officially unveiled on Sept. 4, with community organizers bringing the public art to life with a large ceremony filled with live music and guest speakers.
The 27 foot-by-9-foot mural, on the Rails-to-Trails near the historic neighborhood of The Hill, is a big draw for Easton, a town with some public art but none so large and historic. And the mural joins other local public commemorations of Douglass — a native of Talbot County — including the county courthouse statue of the famed abolitionist and the new Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe.
About 100 people attended the unveiling ceremony, including members of the Easton Town Council, Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-Mid-Shore, Talbot County Council President Chuck Callahan, Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, and Dave Harden, a candidate for Maryland Congressional District 1 in the 2022 midterm elections.
The ribbon cutting at 505 South Street was celebrated beforehand at Idlewild Park with live music from local artists, including Kentavius Jones, the popular go-go band Push Play out of Washington D.C., and performers from New York-based Gotham City Entertainment.
High-profile guest speakers from Southern Methodist and Morgan State universities, the U.S. Army, and the family of Frederick Douglass, also remarked on the importance of the mural, which details Douglass’s life in chronological order, and celebrates the influence of America’s greatest abolitionist.
Opening the ceremony was Dale Green, a professor at Morgan State whose family ancestors married into the Douglass family through his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass.
Green said it was fitting to place the mural in The Hill, America’s first free black community, because Douglass — who was born in Talbot County more than 200 years ago — was “intertwined” with the historic neighborhood and “the lives and legacies of those early free black individuals.”
“For this mural to have been commissioned and erected now, on this very hollow ground, it is indeed a historic occasion and indeed a historic day,” said Green. “It’s very historic and very appropriate that it happens here.”
Michael Rosato, the mural’s artist, broke down the project and the complex, chronological timeline of the artwork, which is separated into two segments, he explained. The bottom half depicts Douglass’ life, from slavery to his career as an abolitionist and newspaper editor at The North Star. Rosato said he wanted to keep images of slavery in the art so people will “never forget” what happened, and how it influenced America.
The middle of the mural puts Douglass front and center with his first wife Anna Murray at the U.S. Capitol, where he fought to end slavery. Douglass is standing triumphantly and holding up a copy of The North Star.
In the right-hand corner, Rosato traces Douglass’s life in the public art to the civil rights era and Dr. Martin Luther King, and finally to the the historic inaugurations of former president Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris — representing the lasting ideals of Douglass.
“The people that stood on Frederick Douglass’s shoulders were the people that were inspired by his words,” said Rosato. “His words ran deep as they went through the experience — they marched, they demanded they be heard — and it evolves into Barack Obama as the first elected African American and then Kamala Harris as the first woman of color vice president. And that’s an incredible journey.”
The top half of the mural shows Douglass’s descendants standing proudly, on both sides of the artwork, in military uniform. That includes Tarance Bailey Sr., the five times great nephew of Douglass, who served in Afghanistan for the U.S. Military.
“There’s still activism and volunteerism, and it’s very impressive to me that they continue to journey,” Rosato added. “This is a rich, rich mural, and I think it’s a testament to the power of public art and the ability to tell the story.”
Bailey spearheaded the effort, which took roughly three years to complete. He was inspired in 2018 to get a mural up after discussing his vision to continue commemorating Douglass with a family friend and civil rights activist, Michelle Garcia-Daniels, of Rochester, New York.
Garcia-Daniels backed the project, helped organize it and raised $20,001 dollars for the cause. She spoke at the event, and said she was going to continue commemorating Douglass’ life.
“You have no idea how many people you are making happy,” Garcia-Daniels said of the mural. “They’re going to walk here, they’re going to see that, and they’re going to ask questions. And the history will not be lost or forgotten.”
Direct descendants of the Douglass family also spoke at the event. Kenneth Morris Jr., the great-great-great grandson of Douglass, said Douglass has always been an inspiration in his life, especially when growing up as a child.
Morris cited one example, recalling a portrait of Douglass, hung up in his house, that was so powerful it intimidated him.
“I would try and sneak past that portrait. But you know what happened. His eyes were following me. And by the time I could get down to the end of the hallway I could feel his steely glare burning like fire down the back of my neck,” he said. “And I always imagined, as a little boy ... his booming baritone voice bellowing down on my tiny person and he would say, ‘You will do great things, young man.’”
Morris said “there was a lot of pressure” growing up among his family, but he had always felt awed by his ancestors, who fought “so that some of us even have a right to sit in a classroom.”
“We’ve spent our adult lives trying to step out of the vast shadow of our great ancestors, but all of us descend from somebody that made a difference,” he said. “We all have greatness flowing through our veins, and history lives within each of us. The future depends on how we carry that history forward.”