Federal lawmakers are calling on Congress to bestow its highest honor on Frederick Douglass, among several Marylanders posthumously attracting national recognition this year for their abolitionist work.

Rep. Glenn Ivey, a Democrat representing Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, introduced a bill Feb. 14 that would award Douglass the Congressional Gold Medal — among the highest honors for civilians in the United States — for his contributions to causes for freedom, human rights and the abolition of slavery.

“Frederick Douglass dedicated his life to furthering the cause of freedom in the United States,” Ivey said in a news release. “Few Americans have shaped our nation so profoundly and permanently as Frederick Douglass did. To this very day, Douglass’s message and principles remain a guiding light for our country as we continue to seek fulfillment of our nation’s promise and potential for justice and equality.”

It is long past time for Congress to officially recognize Frederick Douglass' monumental role in our nation's history. That's why I'm introducing the bipartisan Frederick Douglass Congressional Gold Medal Act. By honoring our heroes, we inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Posted by Rep. Glenn Ivey on Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Ivey believes the honor is long overdue for Douglass, “an American whose indelible influence is still felt today and will continue to be felt for years to come,” he said in the release.

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Born in Talbot County in 1818, Douglass lived the first part of his life in Maryland as a slave to a white family. He learned to read and write in secret and eventually liberated himself by hopping on a northbound train departing Baltimore. As a free man, Douglass rose to become one of the most influential voices of the 19th century calling for the abolition of slavery and civil rights for Black people and women. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1895.

“Although the immeasurable impact of Frederick Douglass elevated him to the pantheon of the greatest Americans, he has never received a proper, official commendation from Congress for his contributions to our nation,” Ivey said in the release.

Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill.

“I am pleased to join Congressman Glenn Ivey in introducing the Frederick Douglass Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor Frederick Douglass’ incredible contribution to the pursuit of freedom,” Harris said in a statement. “The legacy of Frederick Douglass remains a source of inspiration for countless First District residents, Marylanders, and Americans and it is time that we give him the official recognition he deserves.”

Congress has awarded the medal to more than 180 people, most recently including Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley in 2023. Emmett Till, a Black teen from Chicago, was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 at the age of 14, after being accused of offending a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, in her family’s grocery store.

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His mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, held an open-casket funeral to allow the public to see what had happened to her son, a decision that helped sparked the civil rights movement.

The bill states Douglass’ medal would be displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. It also contains a provision that would require the museum to make the medal available for display elsewhere, particularly at other places associated with the famed abolitionist.

The U.S. Mint is redesigning the $20 bill to feature abolitionist and Maryland native Harriett Tubman, with the new currency scheduled to go into circulation in 2030.

This article may be updated.