Per University of Maryland tradition, newcomers to this campus often photograph themselves with least one Testudo statue or sit for pictures with Muppets creator Jim Henson outside of Stamp Student Union.
Come November, students could find themselves posing with the university’s latest attraction: a towering bronze statue of Frederick Douglass in Hornbake Plaza surrounded by several quotes, benches, native Maryland plants and colorful nighttime lighting.
“I see new students come to this campus and rub the nose of the turtle,” said history professor Ira Berlin, who chaired the committee responsible for the five-year process of planning and completing work on the Frederick Douglass Square project. “I love the turtle, but I think it will be more important for them to see a man who represented the ideals of this university.”
Douglass, born a slave in Talbot County, escaped from his plantation as a young man and became one of the most outspoken champions of the abolitionist movement. Arguably among the most popular orators of his time, he traveled the world speaking about society’s flaws and the need for major reform.
“We will have an extraordinary place for him,” Berlin said. “We, as the flagship campus of the state of Maryland, should celebrate him.”
The site required costly preparation, most of it taking place over the summer, said Doug McElrath, the acting head of special collections and university archives at Hornbake Library. All work is finished except for the placement of the statue and the completion of some of the words embedded on its surface, Berlin said.
An estimated $600,000 went into the project, he said.
“We received money from the university, money from nearly every dean from every college and money from people who just thought this should happen,” Berlin said. “Many of them were anonymous.”
Currently in the process of being designed and manufactured, the statue — about 8 feet high and worth almost $200,000 on its own — is set to arrive in early November, Berlin said.
“We are currently in the planning process of formally announcing The Square and working to plan a commemorative event,” Katie Lawson, university communications director, wrote in an email. Details for the event “will likely be nailed down next week.”
McElrath said he expects the commemoration to develop into “a big event.”
“We think it’ll be a real focal point for the campus,” McElrath said. “It’s a very dramatic statue: young Douglass giving a speech on his feet, with a cape flowing behind him, the fiery orator.”
The committee aimed to draw “a lot of traffic” by installing the statue in front of Hornbake Library, a site many pass en route to Stamp, near the upcoming Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center and feet away from a range of “materials relating to his life and times” to be displayed in the library, McElrath said.
“It’s very important for us to show how we’ve been transformed and how we’ve transformed ourselves,” Berlin said. “We hope that the Frederick Douglass Square will be a place where students can think about what it means to be a Terp, a Marylander and even an American.”
Berlin and his “North Star” committee colleagues consider Douglass “the most important Marylander who ever set foot on this soil,” a figure who represents this university’s most important values, including “equality, working hard, and improving women’s rights and civil rights.”
“It’s embarrassing that up until this point, there was nothing on this campus that spoke of the greatest Marylander who ever lived,” Berlin said. “I am delighted and proud that now we are on the cusp of finishing up our business.”
Many students await the erection of the statue with pride and respect for the message it relays.
“It’s really important because it shows we’re being more progressive as a society,” said sophomore government and politics major Matt Vuono. “We’re finally acknowledging African-Americans and their place here, too.”