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Maryland State House Reveals Statues of Anti-Slavery Activists

2020-2-13

Statues of historical figures have been the subject of much debate in the United States in recent years. The debate has centered mainly on statues of individuals linked with the Confederacy, the losing side of America’s Civil War in the 1860s. Among other things, the Confederacy fought for the right to continue enslaving people with African origins.

Now, the state of Maryland has revealed statues of two famous anti-slavery activists, or abolitionists. They are Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Lawmakers presented the statues to the public during a ceremony Monday night in the Maryland State House.

A bronze statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman is seen during a private viewing ahead of its unveiling at the Maryland State House, Monday, February 10, 2020, in Annapolis.
A bronze statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman is seen during a private viewing ahead of its unveiling at the Maryland State House, Monday, February 10, 2020, in Annapolis.

The life-sized statues were dedicated during a special joint session of the Maryland General Assembly in the Old House Chamber. That is the room where lawmakers agreed to end – or abolish – slavery in the state in 1864.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones is the state’s first black and first female House speaker. In a prepared speech, she spoke of the importance of Tubman and Douglass and their fight against oppression.

“The statues are a reminder that our laws aren’t always right or just. But there’s always room for improvement,” Jones said.

Tubman and Douglass

The statues, dedicated during Black History Month, were made to show Tubman and Douglass as they would have appeared in age and dress in 1864.

Both Tubman and Douglass were born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Tubman escaped from slavery to become a leading abolitionist. She helped slaves escape using an organized group of anti-slavery activists called the Underground Railroad.

Douglass also escaped slavery. He went on to become a writer, speaker, abolitionist and supporter of women’s rights. He wrote and published the story of his life in 1845. It was a bestseller that helped fuel the abolitionist movement.

The statues are not the only recent example of the state taking steps to demonstrate its rich black history.

Last month, a portrait of a black female former lawmaker took the place of one of a white governor who had been on the wall for 115 years. The painting of Verda Welcome, who was elected to the state Senate in 1962, is the first portrait of a black person on the Maryland Senate’s walls.

Maryland also has removed painful reminders of its past in recent years. In 2017, the state removed a statue of Roger B. Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice and Maryland native. Taney wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that permitted slavery to continue and denied citizenship to African Americans.

I’m Pete Musto.

Brian Witte reported this for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.

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Words in This Story

origin(s) – n. the place, social situation, or type of family that a person comes from

dedicate(d) – v. to officially make something a place for honoring or remembering a person or event

remindern. something that causes you to remember or to think about something

portraitn. a painting, drawing, or photograph of a person that usually only includes the person's head and shoulders