Thurgood Marshall portrait replaces painting of likely enslaver

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Thurgood Marshall portrait replaces painting of likely enslaver

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The omission did not concern Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) did not miss.

There were few portraits of Black historical figures on the walls of the Maryland Senate building in Annapolis. And yet for years Smith has passed a portrayal of Cecilus Calvert, who Maryland historians say was probably a slaveholder, every time he walks into the chamber where lawmakers hear criminal justice bills.

“A lot of people say it’s not a big deal – symbols won’t educate the uneducated or put food on the table or shelter the unsheltered – but we all know that the symbols matter a lot because they make public spaces like this more open and welcoming. to everyone,” said Smith, the first black person to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee.

About 18 months ago, Smith launched a project that would see Calvert come down. And on Thursday, he joined Ernest Shaw Jr., an artist and teacher from West Baltimore, to unveil in its place a painting of a young Thurgood Marshall, also born in Baltimore.

Shaw imprisoned Marshall, a civil rights champion and later the first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice, after Marshall won an appeals court case that eventually led to the desegregation of the University of Maryland Law School.

“Just think how impactful a portrait like this would be for someone who has never seen themselves reflected on the walls of the halls of power,” Smith said during the ceremony. “A portrait of a young lawyer in the midst of his struggle for civil rights will serve as a symbol of hope for all who would come to the committee in search of justice.”

The portrait also symbolizes a sea change taking place in Maryland. After centuries of white men holding the state’s most powerful positions in Annapolis, black people, immigrants and white women will soon move the levers of power in state government.

Governor Wes Moore, who will be the first black man to serve as governor of Maryland, takes office later this month. He will be joined by Attorney General Anthony G. Brown, State Treasurer Dereck Davis, and House Speaker Adrienne Jones – all of whom are black – and Brooke Lierman, who will be the first woman to serve as the state’s comptroller. Incoming Lt. Governor Aruna Miller will be the first immigrant to hold that position, having come to the United States from India as a child.

“Do you know there will be no White men on the Board of Public Works?” have sen. Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore) asked after the ceremony, almost in disbelief, noting that the three-panel board that approves government contracts will consist of a White woman and two Black men. “With Brooke’s victory, the glass ceiling broke. With Adrienne, the glass ceiling broke. It’s pretty incredible.”

In Md., Black people poised to hold four critical positions of power

In the past decade, as Maryland has become one of the most diverse states in the nation, officials are increasingly taking steps to ensure that the State House complex grounds — and its walls — not only reflect the shift, but also the appropriately reflect black people’s. contribution to its history.

Maryland State Archivist Elaine Rice Bachmann said Thursday that for nearly 300 years, the only people represented on state government walls were white men. As the electorate has changed and as legislators and the public make requests, state fundraising has evolved.

She said there are now portraits of Mary Risteau, the first woman elected to the Maryland legislature, Verda Welcome, the first black woman, Chief Justice Robert Bell, the first black person to serve as chief justice in Maryland and Richard Dixon, the first Black treasurer.

“But despite that progress,” she said, “it remains important to reach back into history and represent Maryland, which was unelected and unrecognized in their own time.”

Maryland’s demographic shift is largely driven by growing Asian and Latino populations who, along with Native Americans, continue to be underrepresented in the hallways of the Statehouse and on its walls.

After the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville six years ago, the statue of former US Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision, ruled that black people were not American citizens and had no rights otherwise as the ones White people gave them were removed from the Maryland State House grounds.

In 2019, Jones (D-Baltimore) pushed to remove a plaque sympathetic to the Confederacy from the State House rotunda. A year later, after the national racial reckoning, the plaque, erected at the height of the civil rights movement, was taken down.

The portrait unveiled Thursday was the second created by Shaw, who attended Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore School of the Arts, Morgan State University and Howard University and hails from the same neighborhood as Marshall.

The first iteration of the painting was rejected by a committee to commission an artist for the project, with some deeming it too “aggressive”. Smith said there was some concern that Marshall’s eyes were not fully open and that this included “a slightly different hand gesture.”

After some feedback, Shaw illustrated a younger Marshall before winning the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that declared segregated public schools unconstitutional. The painting, paid for by donations from 30 individuals and companies, is based on a photograph taken by the Afro newspaper after its 1936 victory in the Court of Appeal.

“We didn’t try to bump or change who he was,” Smith said. “There were many sides to him. It shows him young, a little hungry. His suit doesn’t fit well. He’s on the rise at that stage of his life.”

The painting is also not the first time that a portrait of a Black historical figure has replaced the portrait of a White one.

Six years ago, a group of black Baltimore City elementary students touring the historic Statehouse and Senate complex in Annapolis, then-Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) thank you letters about their visit.

Ferguson said the letters taught him a lesson he won’t soon forget.

The students said that they “looked all around us, we didn’t see anyone who looked like us.”

About three years ago, as one of his first acts as president of the Senate, Ferguson unveiled a portrait of Verda Freeman Welcome that now hangs in the back of the Senate chamber.

Welcome, a teacher and civil rights pioneer, was the first black woman in the country to be elected to the state senate. Her photo replaced a 115-year-old painting of a former governor.

“As a white man, the privilege I’ve had to walk around this complex and not be looked at and noticed is something that really struck me — that I didn’t notice,” Ferguson said Thursday night. “I started wandering the halls and walking through the Statehouse, it was so clear that we weren’t telling every Marylander’s story.”

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