- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

BALTIMORE For nearly a decade, Frederick Douglass roamed the cobblestone streets of Fells Point, getting white children to teach him to read and write, and quietly planning his escape to freedom.
Decades later, there's no official marker to tell the groups of tourists who stream through the historic, harborside neighborhood that Douglass lived, worked and 164 years ago yesterday fled slavery from here.
Throughout the state, a handful of Douglass memorials exist, including a statue on the campus of Morgan State University and a maritime museum bearing his name that's being built on Baltimore's waterfront.
But some historians say Douglass, world-renowned as an abolitionist, writer, orator and activist, deserves more respect in his home state.
"Frederick Douglass is probably the most distinguished person ever born in Maryland," said Ira Berlin, professor of history at the University of Maryland at College Park. "I don't think he's been accorded nearly the honors he deserves."
Douglass' great-great grandson, Frederick Douglass IV, had planned to unveil the first in a series of commemorative plaques yesterday marking places in the neighborhood associated with Douglass, but the plans were shelved when problems with the plaque's wording developed.
Instead, he will spend "National Frederick Douglass Freedom Day" promoting what he considers the greatest monument to Douglass ever created Douglass' autobiography, the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave."
"I'm not looking for fireworks and parades and statues," Mr. Douglass said. "The book itself is testimony to his determination to learn how to read and to achieve freedom. In many ways it's the most cogent testimony to his legacy."
Mr. Douglass was scheduled to read passages from the book yesterday. He also was scheduled to present the Frederick Douglass Leadership Award to Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Richard B. Cheney, for her efforts to promote the study of American history among children.
Each month, he hands out about 100 free copies of Douglass' autobiography, which has been chosen as "Baltimore's Book" and is being read and promoted throughout the city.
Mr. Douglass said he wants children in every school in the country to read the book. "It should be right up there alongside Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and the other classics," he said.
Douglass was born a slave on a Chesapeake Bay plantation in about 1818. He was sent to Baltimore as a child and learned to read and write on the city's gritty docks. In 1838 he disguised himself as a sailor and made his way north to freedom.
Other cities associated with Douglass have made great strides in honoring him, said Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland.
He mentioned efforts in Rochester, N.Y., where Douglass published the North Star journal, and the District, where Douglass' home has been turned into a national historic site.
"It's amazing to me that the federal government has recognized him and thousands of people go to visit his home in Washington, and yet the state of Maryland has done nothing comparable to honor him," Mr. Walters said.
Mr. Douglass said he hopes to have the series of plaques in place in Fells Point by February.
Recently, Maryland has begun to show more interest in honoring Douglass, especially as tourists increasingly visit places associated with famous black activists, he said.
"Maryland is a Mason-Dixon state. It's kind of schizophrenic about race," Mr. Douglass said. "There's more to be done, but I think Baltimore and Maryland are on the right track."
In the meantime, he said he wants people to make due with Douglass' book.
"Monuments are nice, but to be able to transform people's hearts and minds is far more important," he said. "I want a monument to be built in people's hearts."


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