`Fred's Army' is slowly raising funds for his statue

Douglass coalition in Easton halfway to goal

October 27, 2007|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,Sun reporter

EASTON --More than three years after winning a bitter fight to place a statue of Talbot County's most illustrious native son - abolitionist Frederick Douglass - here on the courthouse lawn, the grass-roots group that is leading the drive has raised only about half the money it needs.

The sculptor who was selected to create the statue complains that he doesn't have a contract in hand or a check to reimburse him for money he's spent on travel and designing models.

"I've been working for three years and haven't made a nickel. Normally, it's just not this long from concept to completion," said Ed Dwight, a Denver-based artist who has crafted dozens of public sculptures, including the Kunta Kinte/Alex Haley memorial in Annapolis.

"I haven't heard from the people there," said Dwight. "To me, there has been a definite lull with this project."

Moonyene Jackson-Amis, an Easton Town Council member who heads the Frederick Douglass Memorial Action Coalition, known as "Fred's Army," shrugs off criticism about fundraising. The organization has cash or pledges for about $385,000, about half the estimated $750,000 to $800,000 needed for the project.

The pace, says Jackson-Amis, has been reasonable for a small community group.

"We're pleased the way it has gone so far," she said. "For a project like this, we're on a fast track. I couldn't be more excited. It seemed the most prudent to go out and raise a good portion of the money first."

After boisterous community debate, the county council voted 3-2 in March 2004 to allow a statue of Douglass to be placed on the courthouse lawn.

The goal is a Douglass memorial near a 13-foot granite statue commemorating the "Talbot Boys," who fought for the Confederacy. Both would share space next to the 213-year-old courthouse with markers for the county's war dead.

Two years ago, Fred's Army secured $200,000 - a $100,000 state community legacy grant and a $100,000 bond that requires the group to raise a matching amount by 2009. Another $80,000 was pledged last year by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority. And the group has about $105,000 in cash, according to Robert Karge, Easton's town manager, who is handling accounting for the coalition.

Some local community activists say the group's fund-raising effort seems to be quiet of late. "I just haven't heard much from them," said Harriette Lowery, a Unionville resident who worked to gain recognition for the historical importance of a local church. "There are a lot of people who don't want to see this die. We need some money and continued effort," she said.

Carl O. Snowden, who is civil rights director in the Maryland attorney general's office, said he isn't concerned by the pace of the fundraising.

"I was involved with the Kunta Kinte memorial and it took nearly a decade," said Snowden, a former Annapolis city alderman. "We had to raise $1.5 million, so if they're halfway to where they need to be, that's no small task."

Despite widespread support for honoring Douglass, opposition by veterans groups nearly scuttled the proposal in 2004. Veterans argued that the lawn of the stately Eastern Shore landmark was "hallowed ground" and should be reserved for military heroes.

Jackson-Amis, and dozens of others, argued that the courthouse is the only fitting site for a tribute to Douglass, the orator and author who was born a slave on a nearby plantation. He later delivered a speech from the courthouse steps.

State Sen. Richard F. Colburn, who sponsored the bond bill for the project, credits the vocal Jackson-Amis with keeping the project moving. "Without Moonyene, we wouldn't be where we are. She's kept it going," said Colburn, a Republican who represents Talbot, Dorchester and Caroline counties. "Obviously, there ought to be a monument to this great man."

Fred's Army asked Talbot County and municipal governments to contribute to the fund-raising effort, but received only $500 from the town of Oxford. Easton donated the services of Karge and other town employees, Jackson-Amis said. County officials turned down a request from the organization for $100,000.

Councilman Tom Duncan, a former sheriff who voted against allowing the Douglass statue, said the council is unlikely to approve a grant.

"I doubt that will happen," Duncan said, pointing out that the county didn't contribute when a memorial to Vietnam veterans was put on the lawn about 15 years ago. "The Vietnam veterans groups got their monument, all with private donations. The county has not given anything significant except the land," Duncan said.

Councilman Philip Carey Foster, who cast the deciding vote to allow the Douglass monument at the courthouse, says lawmakers have had little or no contact with Fred's Army since.

"It might have stalled a bit, but they've raised substantial money," said Foster. "I have no doubt they'll keep it moving ahead."

Jackson-Amis says lawmakers never attended any of numerous public meetings held to work out design details.

Fred's Army's main objective is getting the Douglass monument in place, but the group is already looking ahead to another location with room for a variety of interpretative panels that could outline Douglass' accomplishments.

"The goal is to have an educational component to this," said Jackson-Amis. "We're taking a broader perspective, expanding the Frederick Douglass story."

chris.guy@baltsun.com

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