Posted on December 22, 2023

A Frederick Douglass Mural in His Hometown in Maryland Draws Some Divisions

Alana Wise, NPR, December 21, 2023

A small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore has found itself divided over a new mural depiction of the county’s most elder statesman, Frederick Douglass.

On the wall outside of the Out of the Fire restaurant in Easton, a 21-foot-tall Douglass is seen posed in a slim, European-cut suit, high-top white Converse sneakers, and an oversized wristwatch — squatting like he’s posing for Instagram.

His facial expression is the same look of defiance often captured on the 19th- century’s most photographed figure, and behind him, dripping graffiti reads the word “Liberty.”

Restaurant owner Amy Haines and her husband, Richard Marks, said they ordered the larger-than-life portrait of Douglass as a way to honor the famed abolitionist and to bring more public art to Easton.


The portrait has been up for just over a month, but already, some members of the community have spoken out against the image, including a number of Douglass’ descendants who say the portrayal is humiliating.

“Cousin Jack called me and said, ‘Have you seen that mural they got up on the wall? Got Uncle Frederick looking like a hoodlum,’ ” said Tarence Bailey, a fifth-generation descendant of Douglass.

“I called the owner of it that night and had a talk with him,” Bailey said of a conversation with Marks. “And he made comments where he said, ‘I think it reaches out to the youth.’ ”

“And I said, you know, these are the same young Black boys we’re trying to get to pull up their pants. We don’t need them aspiring to something like that.”

For Bailey and others who oppose the mural, the differing opinions on the piece represent something much bigger than art.

Haines and Marks, the couple behind the mural, are both white — as is the artist who made the piece. Bailey and many of the picture’s most vocal detractors are Black.


Outside of the restaurant recently, a number of patrons spoke highly of the piece.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Kathy Bosin, a resident of the neighboring St. Michaels, Md.

“When I look at that image, I see the future. When I look at that image, I think that any young person I see, maybe on the street, could be the next Frederick Douglass. It reminds me that there’s leadership and new leaders everywhere, let’s hope. So I get excited about it and I feel inspired by it.”


In addition to potential racial divides, generationally, members of the community seem split on the piece.

At the Building African-American Minds (BAAM) Center in Easton, a group of pre-teen and teenage boys agreed that the image was “cool” — a modern take on a figure they said they did not learn much about in school.

“It’s designed and they put it in the area to where, like, it pops out. It makes the area look better,” said 12-year-old Khi’lil Jenkins.

Aven Nichols, 15, and also in the program, reacted similarly.

“I just like how it’s designed and the colors,” Nichols said. {snip}