By Paige Munshell

A tentative crowd gathered April 16 in Hornbake Plaza’s Frederick Douglass Square, full of nervous energy as rain began to sprinkle down. Then, with a few introductions and fidgeting with a microphone, senior communication major Julia Simms stood up against Douglass’ windblown statue and began.

“We should consent to no peace which shall not be an Abolition peace,” Simms recited, giving Douglass’ words new life and providing a reminder of how far America has come, and how far it has yet to go.

“Frederick Douglass: His Voice, His Legacy” is one of several events being hosted throughout 2018 by the Douglass 200 program at this university to celebrate the bicentennial of Douglass’ birth. He lived from 1818-1895 and dedicated his life as a freed slave to the cause of abolition and enhancing the lives of black people in the United States.

“His words hold so much truth,” Simms said. “It’s so much everyone can learn if they just take a moment to read some of the things he’s written and said.”

“The work of the American Anti-Slavery Society will not have been completed until the black men of the South, and the black men of the North, shall have been admitted, fully and completely, into the body politic of America,” Simms said, repeating words spoken in Douglass’ “Our Work Is Not Done” speech in 1863.

When choosing a passage to share, Simms said she felt as if she were “thrown into what was going on during those times and what he was actually fighting for and some of those things … we still haven’t gotten to today, we’re still working towards.”

Other communication students spoke as well, reciting pieces of famous Douglass speeches such as “Did John Brown Fail?” and “An Address to the Colored People of the United States.” Junior Jackie Camer was one of these students.

“His words still matter today, we all still need to come together in order to change the world,” Camer said. “It’s not just a one-man job, and it’s not just … black people’s job either, it’s jobs of every other race to help make everyone feel inclusive in America.”

“It’s not America without them,” she said

The event was organized by communications professor Shawn Parry-Giles, director of the Rosenker Center for Political Communication and Civic Leadership and chair of the Department of Communication.

Parry-Giles finds Douglass’ words and means of expression to be valuable in her courses and to her students.

“He’s been so formative to American political thought, especially for those who agitate against oppression,” Parry-Giles said. “He has such a legacy in Maryland and on our campus, it’s just very meaningful to hear the students reading his words out loud and have them still have resonance for us today.”

“Douglass 200” is a year-long initiative of this university to recognize and celebrate Douglass’ legacy. The University of Maryland’s website will continue to notify the public of future events within the initiative.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Frederick Douglass Day’s Facebook page.

Paige Munshell is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at pmunshel@terpmail.umd.edu.

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