Earlier this week, Governor Martin O’Malley joined state officials and dignitaries at Government House to unveil a bronze bust of Harriet Tubman — the first bust of an African American to be displayed in the Governor’s residence in Annapolis, Maryland.
Joining Governor O’Malley for the ceremony were First Lady Katie O’Malley, descendants of Harriet Tubman, artist Brendan O’Neill Sr., U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings, and Dr. Joni Jones Floyd, Director of the Banneker Douglass Museum of Annapolis and Executive Director of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture
“Harriet Tubman is one of the most inspiring Marylanders and greatest Americans we have ever known and I’m grateful for Brendan O’Neill Sr. donating his talents to share her history with generations to come,” said Governor O’Malley. “In commemorating the life of Harriet Tubman, we’re ensuring that the healing light of those who shine against the darkness of human frailty will never dim.”
Harriet Tubman, one of America’s most famous conductors on the Underground Railroad, was born into slavery in 1822 in Dorchester County, Maryland. After escaping from slavery, she made nearly twenty trips over a ten year period, rescuing over 300 enslaved African Americans. Refusing to be bound by the chains of slavery, Tubman battled amazing odds to pursue lifelong dreams of freedom, justice, and equality.
“This has been a long time coming and now I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Valarie Ross Manokey, Great, Great Niece of Harriet Tubman.
The bronze bust, which was sculpted by Brendan O’Neill Sr. and dedicated to Governor O’Malley and the State of Maryland, is a permanent addition to the State Archive and the Government House art collection. O’Neill donated his labor, which included casting, molding, sculpting, and shipping the bust. He also designed the pedestal on which the bust is displayed, which consists of a combination of wood from the Wye Oak and a sweet gum tree, which is native to the Blackwater River region of Dorchester County, Maryland.
“I am honored to have been involved in this project to pay tribute with my sculpture to such an iconic figure in Maryland and American History,” said Brendan O’Neill Sr., sculptor. “I want to thank the Governor for his vision and encouragement as I researched and sculpted the bust. I wanted to portray Harriet Tubman as a young woman in her 30’s as she might have looked at the time of the Underground Railroad. And I wanted to create an image of a powerful yet simple young woman; humble yet watchful and strong leading her people.”
The commission and dedication of this historic bust is the most recent initiative of Governor O’Malley’s longstanding efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in Maryland. Those efforts also include the recognition of prominent African Americans, including the commission and dedication of a portrait of Frederick Douglass in Government House in September 2014
As Mayor of Baltimore, Governor O’Malley and his Administration instituted much-needed diversity in public meeting rooms by replacing portraits from the Colonial period with those of African American leaders and other change-makers from Baltimore City and across the State. Governor O’Malley further demonstrated his appreciation and support of African American history with the establishment of the African American Heritage Preservation Grant Program in 2010. Since the Program’s inception, the O’Malley-Brown Administration has provided over $3 million for 43 African American historic preservation projects across the State.
“It is long overdue that Harriet Tubman be represented in the state-owned art collection,” said Elaine Bachmann, on behalf of the Commission on Artistic Property. “Mr. O’Neill’s sculpture, enhanced by the pedestal crafted from Maryland’s Wye Oak, is a fitting tribute to this remarkable woman that will be treasured by generations of Marylanders.”
Recently, Governor O’Malley thanked the United States Congress and President Barack Obama for passing and signing legislation that authorizes the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park in Maryland. Under the O’Malley-Brown Administration, Maryland showed its support for the project by establishing the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway driving tour on the Eastern Shore. The Administration secured more than $20 million in state and federal funds for the construction of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park and Visitor Center, which is currently under construction in Dorchester County and slated to open in 2016.