This mural depicting Frederick Douglass is visible along Easton's Rails-to-Trails walk and bikeway. Photo: Avalon Foundation

Frederick Douglass Celebrated with Easton Parade

This Valentine’s Day weekend, an Eastern Shore community will celebrate the 206th birthday of abolitionist Frederick Douglass with a parade, reenactment and honors for modern heroes of the local Black community.

On Saturday, Feb. 17, the Bailey-Groce Family Foundation and guests will observe the 206th Birthday Celebration of Frederick Douglass. The joint celebration also commemorates Civil Rights Heroes Day Weekend, chosen by the Moore-Miller administration to honor February 20th, the date of the death of Frederick Douglass and to pay homage to his commitment to equal rights. 

While the exact date of his birth is unknown, Douglass celebrated his birthday on Feb. 14, a date he chose. According to Tarence Bailey Sr., a fifth generation nephew of Douglass, his uncle picked Valentine’s Day in memory of his mother: the sweet cakes she made for him and the affectionate name she would call him on their visits, “my little Valentine.”

At 10 a.m., the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Color Guard kicks off the parade through Easton in front of the Easton Police Department, 106 West Dover Street.

. The ceremonial unit was named in honor of the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment Unit depicted in the movie Glory. Members of the 54th Massachusetts were recruited by Douglass and became the first African American military unit formed in the North during the Civil War. Douglass’s sons Charles and Lewis served in the 54th.

After the war, when Major Charles Douglass and his wife were turned away from a Chesapeake Bay establishment, he bought land on the banks of the Bay in Anne Arundel County and formed the African American enclave of Highland Beach. The home Charles built for Douglass still stands, where the elder Douglass could, in his own words, “look over at the Eastern Shore and the land where I was enslaved.”

The afternoon’s program at the Avalon Theatre, beginning at 3 p.m. will be presided over by Theo Wilson, host of the History Channel’s “I Was There.” Phil Darius Wallace reprises his role as Frederick Douglass while Millicent Sparks performs as Harriet Tubman. Sculptor Richard Blake, described as amazing by Wesley Wofford, creator of Harriet Tubman Beacon of Hope, will present his work.

Douglass, the abolitionist, orator and statesman, was also a music lover who played the violin and owned a Stradivarius copy. Fittingly, the celebration includes music reaching across the spectrum, from the saxophone sounds of DC’s AzuSax to American Idol’s Ayla Dennis and Donnell Floyd of Push Play. The lineup is set to get people out of their chairs and onto the floor. 

Doors open at 2:30 pm for the celebration at the Avalon. For ticket information, click here.

In addition to all the days’ honors for Douglass, the Bailey-Groce Family Foundation will honor three present-day heroes for their dedication to the community. The Lifetime Mentorship Award will be given to Lorraine Clagett, described by Bailey as someone who went out of her way to help the African American children of the Hill community and the force behind the establishment of Head Start.

Shelton Hawkins, originally from the Hill, will receive the Hill Award, named for the Easton community which is also one of the nation’s oldest free African American communities. Hawkins is an educator and artist known for his work on Easton’s Idlewild basketball court mural along with national projects. “He creates safe spaces for children through art,” Bailey said.

Paul Butler will receive the Grace Brooks Award, named for the first African American woman to purchase her freedom and land in the community, Butler, described by Bailey as an example of strength and grace, is the current Director of Communications of Wicomico County Schools and a former nightly news anchor for WBOC-TV. Kayleigh Hammond is also named as a recipient. 

To learn more about the Douglass 206th Birthday Celebration, and the Bailey-Groce Family Foundation click Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill. Openings are still available for parade participants. Contact organizers at  [email protected] for more information.