City unveils first historical marker in Fells Point to honor Douglass

He lived in neighborhood before escaping slavery

February 22, 2002|By Jamil Roberts | Jamil Roberts,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials signaled yesterday that the city is prepared to officially mark Frederick Douglass' place in local history.

A historical marker honoring Douglass was unveiled yesterday at Fells Point Square, the first of up to six signs that will be erected throughout the area where Douglass lived, worked and prayed.

The marker is scheduled to be replaced with a plaque Sept. 3 - National Frederick Douglass Freedom Day - the day that Douglass escaped from slavery in Baltimore.

"I think the recognition of Frederick Douglass is way overdue," said Mayor Martin O'Malley, who performed the ribbon cutting at the ceremony.

The mayor echoed the sentiments of Baltimore residents who have criticized the city for failing to recognize the contributions of many African-Americans and the city's role in the slave trade.

"I think that the city was embarrassed of its history. Other cities have already had historical markers," said Robert E. Reyes, 46, board member of the Friends of the President Street Station.

For two years, Louis C. Fields lobbied the city to create the memorials. With the help of the Frederick Douglass Organization, founded by Frederick Douglass IV, and tourism groups, Fields hopes to increase African-American tourism in Baltimore.

"This is a realization of a dream," said Fields, president of Black Baltimore Heritage Tours, who helped create the Frederick Douglass Historical Marker Program.

Born Frederick Bailey in Talbot County, Douglass came to Fells Point in 1826, about the age of 8. There, he learned to read and write and bought his first book. He also worked as a caulker.

Posing as a sailor, he escaped from bondage in 1838, taking a train to Philadelphia. He went to New York and then to Massachusetts, where he changed his last name to Douglass and became a preacher, lecturer, writer and activist. He ultimately became an international abolitionist and orator, an ambassador to Haiti and presidential adviser.

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