Banneker-Douglass Museum proudly presented The Douglass Reading Room from July 5, 2018-February 28, 2019 in celebration of the “Year of Frederick Douglass.” The Douglass Reading Room brings to life the writings and living quarters of Douglass’ homes - connecting historical themes with modern day discussions. The exhibit features books written by and about Frederick Douglass, as well as works by influential African American authors and noted artists. The exhibit design was inspired by his homes: “Twin Oaks” summer cottage in Highland Beach, “Cedar Hill” home in Anacostia, Washington, DC, and “Douglass Place” in Baltimore City.
Guest Curator, Gregory Morton states, “My goal is for people to walk into The Douglass Reading Room exhibit and feel at home. Appreciate what Douglass represented. Through examining art and literature, reflect on your own talents and aspirations. Know that you, too, can accomplish greatness. Douglass has an amazing legacy, but we, too, should be thinking about our own legacy, asking ourselves who were are helping? What are we leaving behind to inspire others?”
Born in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey (who would be known as “Frederick Douglass”) was the first African American to gain international prominence as a social crusader. With his commanding presence, Douglass was a tireless advocate for the anti-slavery movement and the woman’s suffrage campaign. Through his life and legacy, as exhibited at the Banneker-Douglass Museum and The Douglass Reading Room, Frederick Douglass continues to motivate generations of leaders in areas of civil rights and scholarship to both agitate and inspire social change.
Gregory Morton, the Guest Curator, is the owner of one of five homes in Baltimore known as “Douglass Place.” Morton has restored and styled this home as an homage to Frederick Douglass, featuring African American art, design, and literature. “Douglass Place” was also interpreted in The Douglass Reading Room.
Douglass Place is a group of five homes located on Dallas Street in Baltimore, Maryland built by Frederick Douglass as rental properties for African Americans in the 1890’s. The properties embody Douglass’ connection to the Fells Point neighborhood where he was enslaved from the 1820’s to 1838. The site upon which the houses stand was previously the location of the Strawberry Alley Methodist Church, where Douglass worshiped and honed his oratory abilities.
To learn more about Greg Morton’s “Douglass House”, visit @douglass.house.bmore on Instagram!
Douglass Place became a nationally recognized historic site in 1983. In 2015, Gregory Morton, Baltimore native and Douglass enthusiast, purchased and restored one of the Douglass Place homes. Inspired by Douglass’ experience in Baltimore City, Morton stylized the home to pay homage to Black social justice movements, history, art, and culture. This section of the exhibit examines fashion, video, and books that remix African American history with contemporary voices.
The “Douglass Place” area of the exhibition highlights conflicting representations of Blackness, which Frederick Douglass often embodied, and the connection between past and present.
Two works of art above were featured in the first rotation of the exhibition. The “Survival Pending Revolution” pays homage to Black social movements while “Breakfast of Champions” by Derick Adams contrasts the poster by the use of color and the television.
The two pieces by Tom Miller featured in the second rotation portray Black people engrossed in a Maryland Crab Feast while the other, sculptural work provides a minstrel-style Black woman enjoying watermelon. These pieces are flanked by a bust of Harriet Tubman by Laurence Hurst and various fashion pieces by Arvay Adams. Makeba Rainey’s digital artwork ties these works together by utilizing digital artwork to collage a historic image of Douglass.
Frederick Douglass’ Cedar Hill house is located at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Anacostia, District of Columbia. The home was designed by architect John Van Hook. Douglass purchased the property as a symbol of wealth and prestige from the Freemen’s Savings and Trust Company in 1877 for $6,700. In the fall of 1878, he moved in with his wife Anna Murray-Douglass.
Plan your visit: Cedar Hill is open to the public and can be visited year round. For operating hours, visit www.nps.gov/frdo.
This is the last home where Frederick Douglass lived. Cedar Hill was a place to entertain and meet with guests, as Douglass was an incredibly popular public figure. Cedar Hill also housed his impressive book and art collection. In this section of the exhibit, enjoy a rich display of art and literature that speak to Douglass’ tireless work and respect for civil and women’s rights.
The first rotation of artwork a Dan Deagle mask from the Ivory Coast of West Africa (center), a 1970s "Free Huey" Black Panther poster by Emory Douglas (bottom left), a 1990 screen print by Jacob Lawrence entitled "And God created the Day and the Night and God put Stars in the Sky" (right) (all Courtesy of Gregory Morton), in addition to Jacob Lawrence's 1993 print of "The Life of Toussaint L'Ouverture - Contemplation" Edition 26/120 (top) (Courtesy of the Banneker-Douglass Museum).
Select pages from Maya Angelou's "Our Grandmothers" poem with illustrations by John T. Biggers were encased below the artwork.
Themes of somber reflection and family are connect the art featured in both rotations of the Douglass Reading Room, inviting visitors to think the way Douglass would have in his Cedar Hill home.
Image from the first rotation above. Images from the second rotation below.
Family and storytelling were strong themes in the first rotation of "Cedar Hill" art, as demonstrated in the above works of Amy Sherald and Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and the work of Joan M.E. Gaither, Ed.D. below. Gaither's quilt pays homage to Frederick Douglass' wife, Anna Murray Douglass, through the traditional art of quilting.
Themes of abstraction and anger emerged as new works of art rotated.
The Douglass summer home, known as “Twin Oaks”, was built in 1894-1895 as a vacation home for the Douglass family in the community of Highland Beach, Annapolis, Maryland. The home was built to be a dwelling of peace and relaxation for Douglass to enjoy with his family in his later years.
Plan your visit: The Frederick Douglass Museum and Cultural Center is housed in “Twin Oaks” summer cottage. The museum is open by appointment by calling 410-268-2956. Visit the website at www.highlandbeachmd.org.
Though Douglass did not live to see the completion of “Twin Oaks”, notable visitors to the home included Booker T. Washington, educator and activist; Paul Robeson, actor, singer, and humanitarian; Mary Church Terrell, activist; Langston Hughes, poet and playwright. In this section of the exhibit, relax with a game of checkers or enjoy fiction novels and poetry by authors such as Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.