October 18, 2017

Van Hollen Legislation Honoring Frederick Douglass Passes Senate

Last night the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission Act, legislation led by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to commemorate Frederick Douglass. The bill would establish a commission to honor and celebrate Frederick Douglass in 2018 as we mark the 200th anniversary of his birth. The legislation was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on October 11, 2017, after it was introduced by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Andy Harris (R-Md.). The bill now heads to the President's desk to be signed into law.

"Now more than ever, it's important that we remember the work and passion of Frederick Douglass - and I urge President Trump to sign this important bill into law and appoint members to the Commission without delay," said Senator Van Hollen. "His words and actions were pivotal to the fight for freedom and justice in our country. This commission will explore how we can learn from his legacy and continue to apply these lessons today. As Douglass once stated, 'The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful, and virtuous.' We must continue to live and govern by those words."

The Commission would plan, develop, and carry out events to honor Douglass on the bicentennial of his birth. The Commission would also recommend programs and activities to Congress. The Commission would be composed of 16 members appointed by the President and congressional leadership. Four of the members appointed by the President would be based on the recommendations of the D.C. mayor and the governors of Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York.

Douglass was enslaved at birth in Talbot County, Maryland. At a young age Douglass learned to read and write, and in 1838, he fled Maryland and moved to New York. He later escaped to Great Britain to avoid being tracked down and returned to slavery. Ultimately, British Quakers paid for his freedom, which enabled him to return to the United States. He settled in Baltimore, Maryland in 1847, and he continued to be a strong abolitionist who campaigned against slavery and in favor of the right to vote throughout the East and Midwest.

As a freeman he was able to hold significant positions within the government. He served as an Advisor to President Lincoln. He was also appointed to serve as the District of Columbia Legislative Council, the United States Marshall, and the Recorder of Deeds. He subsequently became the Ambassador to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. In Maryland, Douglass invested in several enterprises, especially those that would benefit the African-American community. These included housing developments in his old neighborhood in Fells Point (named Douglass Place) and at Highland Beach, a summer resort community outside of Annapolis.