Maryland Sen.William Smith (left) and Baltimore-based artist Ernest Shaw Jr. (right) make history by clearing the way for the first painting of an African American in the chambers of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis, Md. The inclusive artwork will be revealed and celebrated on Jan. 5. (Courtesy Photo)

By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,

Annapolis, Md. will experience even more representational shifts for the upcoming legislative session in January.

Next month a portrait of young Thurgood Marshall, the Baltimore son who integrated the U.S. Supreme Court, will be installed thanks to Sen. William Smith (D-Md-20), chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

While powers that be cross the country are debating whether or not to teach the truth about the African American experience in this country, lawmakers in Maryland had no problem with slavery being glorified via art in Annapolis.

“I noticed an inappropriate portrait of Cecil Calvert, the first proprietor of Maryland, and what is believed to be his slave, pictured in the chambers,” said Smith, who in 2020, became the first African American to chair the committee. 

“Spotting this issue allowed us to create a project centered on inclusion that we hope will inspire the public and committee to speak their truth for the sake of bettering Maryland. The chambers lack overall representation congruent to Maryland’s population and I had to change that.”

Smith’s efforts have drawn support from statehouse colleagues. 

“I can think of no better fighter for jurisprudence and racial equality than former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall,” said Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-MD-46). “His legacy as the first African American Justice on our land’s highest court will be an ever-present reminder to all who pass through the halls of the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.”

Baltimore-based art curator Deyane Moses, and public access archivist for AFRO Charities, said she believes the project is a significant step forward and will encourage a more humanizing picture of Black people, adding that systemic changes are needed to reflect the proper images of African Americans in Maryland history.

“Their efforts can’t be hollow,” said Moses of the state’s ancestors. “I used to attend MICA and pushed for initiatives like this to bring representation and inclusion, but it was feeble at times due to the lack of real support for Black people available.”

The task of replacing images has fallen to Ernest Shaw Jr. 

Thurgood Marshall, Donald Gaines Murray and Charles Houston, shown here from left to right. (Source: Maryland State Archives, Special Collections (Maryland History Slide Collection), MSA SC 1260-129)

The West Baltimore native and Morgan State University graduate says providing authentic portrayals of Blacks is a complex, misrepresented, and misunderstood subject.

The new portrait will replace the older and decidedly offensive painting, which the Maryland State Archives removed.

“The last two years, Shaw has been blowing up,” said Moses. “I’m glad he was chosen as he has a distinct style and he’s Baltimore grown. I know that painting will be dynamic and stand out in more ways than one.”

“Being an image maker allows me to produce work that highlights the humanity of the viewer by illustrating the humanity of the subject,” Shaw said.

Memorializing Thurgood Marshall is a step in that direction, Smith said. “Symbols matter, and if we leverage that power, we can be more inclusive,” he said.

Smith collaborated with MICA, a private art and design school, Larry Gibson, a Baltimore lawyer, and the Maryland State Archives.

Another Baltimore-based artist, Savannah Wood, took the time to comment on the project’s impact. 

“It makes perfect sense for a portrait of Thurgood Marshall to hang in the Maryland Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee’s building,”  Wood said. “Whenever I hear about a ‘first’ like this, I’m reminded of how far behind we are in ensuring that our public spaces represent the people whose tax dollars make those spaces possible. This representation is certainly important, and I hope its impact extends beyond the symbolism of inspiring true structural change for Black Marylanders.”

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