Minutes before the start of Wednesday’s Frederick Douglass Square dedication ceremony, about 10 student protesters urged University of Maryland officials to remove Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd’s name from the campus’s football stadium.
Led by senior sociology major Colin Byrd, who is not related to the stadium’s namesake, the group took the stage and demanded that the university act quickly to remove the name of the former university president, who protesters said was a racist and segregationist, from the stadium. In September, university President Wallace Loh created a work group of faculty, staff, students and alumni to help consider renaming the stadium.
The protest follows Georgetown University’s Tuesday announcement regarding the upcoming name change of two on-campus buildings currently named after slaveholders.
“The students that voiced their concerns prior to today’s dedication was not planned,” university spokeswoman Crystal Brown said in a statement. “However, the expression of ideas and the pursuit of equity and social justice are exactly what Frederick Douglass represented and exemplify why the Square is so important for our entire campus community.”
Two of Douglass’ descendants — Nettie Washington Douglass and Kenneth Morris Jr. — addressed the crowd of about 200 and said the creation of Frederick Douglass Square shows that this university is recognizing an important person in its racial history.
“Momentum is building,” said Morris Jr., Douglass’ great-great-great grandson. “Freedom’s torch has been passed down to us.”
Douglass, born a slave in Talbot County in 1818, began self-educating himself at age 9, later escaping bondage and campaigning on behalf of universal freedom and human rights. Bonnie Thornton Dill, arts and humanities college dean and chairwoman of the Byrd Stadium renaming work group, said at the dedication ceremony that the new Douglass statue represents society’s ongoing struggle for equality.
“We dedicate this square as both a classroom and commemoration space … [for] one of the most important Marylanders of all time,” Thornton Dill said. “This is a place for gathering, expression of ideas and trying to change the world.”
The statue communicates the value of education and diversity, Loh said.
Kye Hodge, president of this university’s Phi Beta Sigma fraternity chapter and one of the students who protested onstage, said the new Frederick Douglass statue gives students something to rally behind.
“It’s good for the campus,” the senior civil engineering major said. “We finally have a black figure enshrined on-campus now.”
Although Wednesday’s ceremony served as the official tribute to the square’s completion, Thornton Dill said a student-led protest on Nov. 12 in response to racial controversies at other universities was the true dedication.
“The carved words and statue challenge us to recommit and breathe 21st-century meaning” into Douglass’ pursuit of justice, Thornton Dill said. The statue’s presence at this university alludes to the “collective responsibility” to enact change, she added.
Del. Alonzo Washington, a Prince George’s County Democrat and university alumnus, also spoke at the ceremony and said the student protesters calling for the renaming were fighting for equality, just like Douglass.
“We must recognize that now is the time to remove honor from leaders who divided our community,” Washington said. “Let us decide today to make it right.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous headline of this story incorrectly stated that a student protest interrupted the dedication. The student protest occurred before the ceremony. The article has been updated.