Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said Friday that “it is time” to erect statues of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass at the State House in Annapolis.
The proposal is the latest attempt to recognize the contributions of African Americans from Maryland, and to address critics who oppose the statue of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. chief justice who wrote the proslavery Dred Scott decision in 1857, that has long stood on the State House grounds.
Miller and Busch want statues of Douglass and Tubman placed in the Old House of Delegates Chamber, where they would “appropriately look on as witnesses in the room where Maryland abolished slavery in our State and rejected the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
The Democrats’ letter to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) — the governor’s designee to the State House Trust, which oversees any additions made to the State House complex — referred to plans to replace President Andrew Jackson’s face with Tubman’s on the $20 bill.
“As the nation honors Harriet Tubman, a great Maryland historical figure, we believe it is appropriate that the State House be a place of honor as well,” the letter said. “In times of change, it is even more important that we teach our children about the events and people like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass who laid the groundwork for Maryland to be a place where all citizens are valued and included.”
Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore), the president of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, said she was pleased with the proposal. Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said the governor and lieutenant governor “would gladly support” honoring Tubman and Douglass.
But Colin Byrd, a student activist who successfully campaigned last year to drop the name of segregationist Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd from the University of Maryland football stadium, said Tubman and Douglass “deserve more than to be recognized in a relatively small room that is now so obscure and infrequently visited.”
Byrd, who asked this summer for a Tubman statue, argued that statues of the two should be placed outside, saying that if Taney “deserves to be recognized in full view, then surely Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman deserve this level of recognition.”
Legislation to install statues of Tubman and Douglass alongside Taney failed in 2012 and 2013. A bill to remove Taney’s statue from State House grounds died this year.
In their letter, Miller and Busch wrote that the Old House Chamber is a location that is “interpreted at a time contemporary to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass’ contributions to our State and our nation.”
They noted that a bronze statue of President George Washington stands in the Old Senate Chamber, where he returned his military commission to Congress in 1783.
“While additional statues could be located outside the building,” the letter said, “we propose that the State honor both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass as prominent Marylanders inside the State House, reflecting the importance of their contributions to our State.”