Fundraiser Celebrates Douglass’ 205th Birthday

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EASTON — Frederick Douglass’ 205 birthday got an all-day celebration in Easton last Saturday. It started with flag raising at the Frederick Douglass mural. It moved to showcase two powerful storytellers at the Avalon and ended at a sumptuous fundraiser dinner at the armory downtown.

A full color guard entered the space with flags and Talbot Sheriff’s Office Dfc. John Coleman sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “The Star Bangled Banner.”

Two actors portrayed Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman at the Avalon to an attentive crowd of 150. The evocative and detail-rich monologues were performed by Millicent Sparks and Darius Wallace. They brought the triumph over slavery to light.

The two monologues were heart-wrenching reminders of the injustices done. Words like whips, escape dogs, the Underground Railroad and becoming free in your own mind were used.

In the end the actor chose to say, “Education is the path from slavery to freedom” and the north star kept Tubman on track.

“Your words can be swords and your creativity and storytelling can participate in awakening the minds of Americans so they understand the pain, the struggles, the triumphs so there will be with all an understanding of the human family,” said Wallace.

The crowd was filled with local politicians and descendants of Douglass. State Senator Johnny Mautz and former State Senator Addie Eckardt gave citations to the descendants. Following the performance there was a fried chicken dinner and the unveiling of a triple life-size statue of Douglass made by Academy Award-winning sculptor Kazu Hiro. It was such an accurate rendering that he used real human hair.

Wallace portrayed several characters including Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Nat Turner, John Brown and President Abraham Lincoln.

Cassandra Vanhooser said, “This is a fundraiser for Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill and The Bailey-Groce Family Foundation. Tarence Bailey Sr. is the author of all of this. And he has a vision to create an African American cultural center on the Hill. He grew up on the Hill and put the mural on the Hill. Today started with a ribbon cutting at the mural and a flag raising.”

Brian Warner, an Eagle Scout, completed his project at the mural by fixing the bench and putting in an interpretive panel. Three other benches were put in with the help of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the Department of Natural Resources, the Town of Easton and Talbot County.

After the Avalon performance, a teaching artist named Kim Poole was setting up an African display of spices and herbs and kente fabric to show Douglass’ connection to the continent.

“We are demonstrating the connection between Frederick Douglass and the deep roots in his ancestry and lineage on the continent of Africa. We will be marketing indigenous herbs and spices and handcrafted pieces. We are telling the whole story. There is nothing more important than having a strong sense of identity when you create. It helps you to create art that is authentic and genuine and a reflection of your life story as well as your grandparents. In the African worldview, story is the foundational art form. We have Tarence Bailey — he knows his own story and he is invested in preserving and promoting the legacy of Baba Douglass,” said Poole.

Kevin Douglass, great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, said “Tarence Baily and the board, and Cassandra Vanhooser, the support he had in his vision for the organization, the mural on the Hill Community and creating this night for the celebration of Frederick Douglass’ birthday. It is very very pleasing. The performance of Black legacy that we were able to experience on stage was awesome.”

Douglass’ statue is highly realistic. His eyes seems to follow the viewer around the room. Beneath the commanding head is a black pedestal of slaves breaking their chains.

“The statue was originally commissioned for a Frederick Douglass play in D.C. But the script and the statue didn’t match so it never got premiered. The owner of the statue is David Hunt in Marshall, Virginia. I talked to him; it would be a great idea to premier the statue in Frederick’s hometown and he agreed. The sculpture is eight feet tall and 350 pounds. It is so vivid and lifelike that is it is like looking into Douglass’ eyes,” said Bailey.

With this fundraiser. Bailey has a larger dream for the Hill Neighborhood and the sculpture gets him thinking.

“These are the sort of types of art that we want to be able to to put in the cultural center once we get it built, where we can keep it permanently. We want to put the cultural center in the Hill. That is our goal. Megan Cooke and Richard Marx are allies. Wes Moore expressed interest because we want to put some incubators in there. We want HBCU satellite offices and a museum, lecture hall and food pantry. A Community Center with gardens. It will be three stories and a safe place. We are going to send a rendering of it later on tonight. This place would be like the Harriet Tubman Center on steroids.”

This day was a vivid way to celebrate Douglass and his birthday after 205 years.

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