The statue had been in the square for weeks.
Some posted about it on social media.
Others took selfies with it.
Most just passed by it on their way to class, not really wondering why a nearly 8-foot-tall statue of Frederick Douglass just showed up on campus one day.
But yesterday, students finally learned the purpose of the new figure when the school officially dedicated the statue in the center of the newly renamed Frederick Douglass square outside of Hornbake.
“We welcome him here not as a historical symbol, but as a living presence,” President Wallace Loh said during the ceremony, referencing Douglass’s importance to the state.
Before the event proper, student protestors took the podium to voice their opinions on the ongoing discussion of the name of Byrd Stadium.
Since the start of the semester, students have raised concerns over having the university’s most famous landmark named after former UMD President Curley Byrd, who was actively against integration and barred black students from the campus.
“Today, let us stick our necks out for that we believe in and those who stick their necks out for us,” Colin Byrd, a senior sociology major and chief lobbyist of the UMD chapter of the NAACP, said.
“Say goodbye to Curley! Do it in a hurry!” protesters yelled as they walked out of the square, citing Byrd’s well-known nickname in their chant.
After the protesters left, Bonnie Thornton Dill, Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, officially began the event for which she was emcee.
In her opening statements, Thornton Dill mentioned how the statue had been unofficially dedicated a week prior when students used it as a focal point for a protest in solidarity with the student protesters at the University of Missouri.
Among the many feature guests who attended the ceremony was Alonzo T. Washington, a Maryland State Delegate and UMD alumni. In his address, he mentioned MLK’s famous quote on how the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.
“It bends because there are men and woman who pulled on it and tugged on it,” Washington said.
Two of Douglass’s descendants, Nettie Washington Douglass and her son Kenneth B. Morris Jr., took the stage to discuss their ancestor.
Washington Douglass spoke of the stories her own grandmother, Fanny Douglass, told her about Frederick Douglass, who is her great-great grandfather.
“Hands that touched the great Frederick Douglass touched mine … [today] we stand one person away from history,” Washington Douglass said.
A running theme through the ceremony was how this university embraces social justice and activism on the campus. However, no undergraduate students were brought to speak during the main portion.
The event concluded with a performance by the UMD Gospel Choir. After their performance, most of the faculty and staff went inside for a reception in Hornbake and to see the new Frederick Douglass exhibit.
For Michael Mpamaugo, a senior civil construction engineering major and a member of Black Male Initiative, said seeing the diverse group of people who showed up to the ceremony was a pleasant surprise.
“Now we have to find ways to implement it in our day-to-day lives and classrooms,” Mpamaugo said. “When I’m at Stamp, I don’t want to see all the black people eating lunch with all black people, all the white people with white people. It shouldn’t take a major tragedy or something like to Mizzou to kind of get us to reflect on this.”
Byrd shared the belief that students need to join together to enforce any kind of social change.
“Unite with us because we are trying to do right.”
Featured Photo Credit: Colin Byrd (centered, holding the bullhorn) and other students from Phi beta Sigma voice their opinions about the current state of race relations in the US, at the unveiling of the Frederick Douglass statue at the Hornbake Plaza. (Abhijit Kiran Valluri/For The Bloc)
Rosie Brown is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.