Remembering Frederick Douglass: State funding assures that the abolitionist's house will be a museum.

March 19, 1996

MARYLAND WAS Frederick Douglass' state of birth in 1817 and a place where he spent his formative years before fleeing to the North and starting his career as an abolitionist. He apprenticed in Baltimore as a ship caulker and later spent summers near Annapolis.

A century after Douglass' death in 1895, the state of Maryland has now approved the $500,000 purchase of his summer house in Highland Beach, a historically black waterfront community started by Douglass' son, Charles. The transaction, which the state will conduct in conjunction with Anne Arundel County, will assure that this recently restored landmark will become an archival museum honoring Douglass and Highland Beach's history.

The 26-acre Highland Beach was established shortly before Douglass' death in 1895. Barred from segregated Bay Ridge, a )) number of African-Americans wanted to start a summer resort of their own. And what a resort it became: Paul Laurence Dunbar would recite poetry on his visits, Paul Robeson would give a spontaneous concert. Among later summer residents were pioneering sociologist E. Franklin Frazier and Robert Weaver, whom President Lyndon B. Johnson selected as the first black to serve in a cabinet. Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," also occasionally vacationed there.

The significance of Highland Beach was that it was Maryland's first private black town. In later years, a handful of other summer resorts for African-Americans were established nearby, including Carr's Beach and Sparrow's Beach. But none of them were as organized or as important gathering places for the black intelligentsia as Highland Beach.

A number of landmarks honor Frederick Douglass. There is the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis; the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Grave in Rochester, N.Y., the city where he published the North Star newspaper, and the house in Anacostia where he lived after moving to Washington, D.C. A few years ago, Douglass' one-time home was saved from bulldozers near Baltimore's Fells Point.

The Highland Beach house now joins these edifices which celebrate a man who rose from humble beginnings to play a crucial role in overthrowing slavery and ended his career as an influential writer and U.S. envoy to Haiti.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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