A rendering shows the planned African American cultural center in Easton. Image courtesy of Tarence Bailey.

Frederick Douglass 205th Birthday Performance to Raise Funds for Easton Cultural Center

A special performance this weekend in Easton, Md. pays homage to Frederick Douglass’s roots, but also launches a new push to build an African American cultural center in the Talbot County town.

Born near Tuckahoe State Park in Talbot County, Frederick Douglass was a self-liberated slave who became an abolitionist, a federal marshal, minister to Haiti, a prolific author and at one time the most photographed man in America. Of his birth, Douglass wrote “I never met a slave who could tell of his birth.”  For himself as a free man, he chose February 14th. 

“We can’t let the week of February 14th go by without celebrating Uncle Frederick,” said Tarence Bailey Sr, a fifth-generation Douglass nephew and founder of Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill, who also notes that Douglass passed away on February 20th, 1895.

This statue of Frederick Douglass by Kazu Hiro, being unveiled in Easton, is the most lifelike his ancestors say they’ve ever seen. Photo courtesy of Tarence Bailey.

Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill itself was established on February 14, 2021. On February 18th, 2023, the organization, in conjunction with the Bailey-Groce Foundation and the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative (FDFI) will celebrate Douglass’s 205th birthday at the Avalon Theater in Easton, not far from where he was born.

Kenneth Morris, Jr., great-great-great-grandson of Douglass (and Booker T. Washington) and founder of the FDFI will also be in attendance. “Tarence and I are cousins,” Morris said. “And FDFI supports everything Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill is proposing to the community.”

As part of the evening’s performances, Phil Darius Wallace takes on the role of  Douglass. When Bailey saw Wallace as Douglass in a one-man show in Chestertown, he was moved to invite the actor to “perform in the county where Douglass was born.”

Of Millicent Sparks, who will portray Harriet Tubman.  Bailey said this: “I saw her at the unveiling of the Beacon of Hope in Cambridge. She was so good that if she was going North at that very moment, you wanted to follow.”  In addition, attendees will witness the unveiling of a statue by award-winning visual artist Kazu Hiro, its first before going on a nationwide tour. Bailey describes it as the best and most realistic he’s seen of his ancestor.

The event also begins a fundraising campaign for the construction of the James Freeman and Grace Brooks building, an African American cultural center to be located on the Hill. This Easton community is believed to predate New Orleans’ Treme as the oldest free Black community in the United States. James Freeman was the first free man to purchase land on the Hill. Grace Brooks, who purchased her own freedom, and that of her children and grandchildren, also built a home in the community.

Plans for the three-story building include a cultural center and museum to be housed on the first floor. Lecture halls, community support facilities, a business incubator, and at least two satellite offices for the use of regional Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will take up space on the second floor. The third floor is designated for offices, a food pantry, and a center for trade programs. The group has plans  to convert a school bus into a mobile museum that will take Eastern Shore African American history and culture on the road. In addition, organizers hope to erect a statue on the center’s grounds.

“The largest statue in Africa is located in Senegal. It’s dedicated to the African diaspora and points in our direction. Our goal is to erect a similar statue pointing back,” Bailey said.  “I grew up on the Hill. This is my way of giving back. If I live to be 100, pass away and come back in another life, I want to see that it’s still here.”

The limited VIP tickets are $125 and include the show as well as refreshments and dinner at the Waterfowl Festival Building.

 Click here for more information and to buy tickets.

-Niambi Davis