A Portrait of Frederick Douglass

2018 marks the bicentennial of abolitionist and civil rights activist, Frederick Douglass, whose Cedar Hill Estate is located one mile from our museum’s current location. One of the most famous intellectuals of his time, Douglass inspired generations with his writings on slavery, political philosophy, and women’s rights.

Silkscreen print of Frederick Douglass by Larry Erskine Thomas, 1969

In his honor, we showcase a portrait created by one of our museum’s early employees, artist Larry Erskine Thomas. Thomas portrays Frederick Douglass in his later years, a determined look on his face. The circular shape of the background is reminiscent of historic portraits of powerful men, while the jagged edges recall African motifs.

Thomas created the portrait for the Smithsonian’s first African American-themed traveling exhibition, titled ‘The Frederick Douglass Years’ (1970). As Research and Design Coordinator at the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, he was instrumental in developing and producing this exhibit, which traveled to venues around the country. Thomas was also involved in the museum’s pioneering efforts to effect social change locally. From 1974 to 1977, he led the Exhibits Laboratory, a first of its kind program to train African Americans, women and other minorities as museum preparators. The program aimed to increase access and opportunity to museum-related professions for underrepresented groups.

Like Frederick Douglass before him, Larry Erskine Thomas worked to educate and inspire positive social change. We cherish this portrait in our collection, which connects two Anacostia influencers across centuries