Press Release - David Driskell to Receive Seventh Frederick Douglass Award

May 9, 2002

David Driskell, Artist and Famed Chronicler of African-American Art, to Receive Seventh Annual USM Regents' Frederick Douglass Award June 4

University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents Chairman Nathan A. Chapman, Jr. announced today that David C. Driskell, one of the nation's foremost authorities on African-American art and a former university professor in the Department of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), will receive the University System of Maryland Board of Regents ' seventh annual Frederick Douglass Award during a special ceremony on Tuesday, June 4 at 5 p.m. in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the UMCP campus.

Speakers at the event will include Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening; Roslyn Walker, director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art; Lou Stovall, master printmaker; Tritobia Benjamin, associate dean of fine arts at Howard University; James Larry Frazier, a prominent art collector; and others. Chairman Chapman and USM Interim Chancellor Joseph Vivona will present the Douglass Award to Driskell. Carmen Balthrop, associate professor of music at UMCP and a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera, will perform.

"David Driskell is a true pioneer not only for African-Americans, but for all Americans,"  Chapman said. "His scholarship in African-American art is landmark, and his chronicling of this singular form of art is now recognized as essential to our nation's history. He has enriched all of our lives, simply by being endlessly, passionately curious. Like each of the hundreds of exquisite works of art that he has discovered, preserved and promoted over the years, David Driskell is one of a kind. He is a worthy successor to the freedom-loving spirit of Frederick Douglass."

A celebrated artist in his own right, Driskell is widely credited as a founder of the growing field of African-American art history. He is perhaps best known as the curator of the Cosby Collection, the extensive anthology of African-American art owned by Bill and Camille Cosby. That collection, selections from which appeared on occasion on Cosby's groundbreaking television show in the 1980s, is among the most substantive collections of art of its kind in the U.S.

Two years before joining the Department of Art at UMCP, Driskell broke new ground by curating Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1750-1950, for the Los Angeles County Museum. After seeing the exhibition, one prominent art historian wrote, "African-American art, past and present, could no longer be ignored, critically dismissed, or relegated to a peripheral course of  study."

Driskell, who achieved emeritus status at UMCP in 1998 following a 20-year career there, also owns an impressive collection of 19th- and 20th-century African-American art himself. From that collection came Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection, in 1999. The exhibition was held in the University of Maryland Art Gallery before traveling to four national venues, including the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the M.H. De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. It also served as a major teaching tool for public schoolchildren in Prince George's County.

A native of Eatonton, GA, Driskell began his academic career at Howard University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in art. He then pursued graduate studies at Catholic University of America, where he earned a master of fine arts degree, and at the Netherlands Institute for the History of Art in the Hague. In addition, he has studied independently African and African-American cultures in Europe, Africa, and South America.

Driskell's 44-year teaching career began at Talladega College in 1955. He also taught at Howard and Fisk universities, and served as a visiting professor of art at Bowdoin College, the University of Michigan, Queens College, and Obafemi Awolowo University (previously known as the University of Ife) in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, West Africa. He joined the UMCP Department of Art in 1977, and served as chairman from 1978-83.

His other scholarly work includes five exhibition books on African-American art, co-authorship of four others, and dozens of articles, essays, and catalogs. He has lectured at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, Harvard University, Spelman College, Haverford College, the University of California at Berkeley, and numerous other top institutions.

Driskell, 71, is the recipient of a host of honors, including the National Humanities Medal, which he received from President Clinton in 2000. The medal's citation credits Driskell for "opening our eyes to the beauty, poignancy and power of African-American art. As artist, curator, scholar and educator, he has focused attention on black artists sparking worldwide interest among art lovers, critics, and historians and enriching the cultural heritage and history of our Nation."

His other honors include prestigious fellowships from the Rockefeller, Danforth, and Harmon foundations, as well as 10 honorary doctorates in art, and, in 1993, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1989 he was the subject of a documentary on his contributions to African-American art history, produced by the Arts Council of Great Britain.

In 1998, UMCP founded the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora, which is intended to become the preeminent venue for the exploration and explication of African and African-American society and culture. Its mission is to train new generations of scholars in the field of African and African-American scholars, following Driskell's model.

Driskell and is wife, Thelma, reside in Hyattsville, MD.

The Frederick Douglass Award was established in 1995 by the USM Board of Regents to honor individuals "who have displayed an extraordinary and active commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity exemplified in the life of Frederick Douglass." Previous recipients include the Honorable Parren J. Mitchell, a member of Congress for the 7th District of Maryland (1996); Benjamin Quarles, scholar at Morgan State University (1997, posthumously); Samuel Lacy Jr., sports writer for the Baltimore Afro-American (1998); the Hon. Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1999); Beatrice "Bea" Gaddy, advocate for the poor and homeless and a member of the Baltimore City Council (2000); and Dorothy Irene Height, chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women (2001).

Statesman, publisher and abolitionist Frederick Douglass was the leading spokesman of American blacks in the 1800s. Born a slave in 1817 in Tuckahoe, MD, he devoted his life to the abolition of slavery and the fight for black rights. Douglass's name at birth was Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, but he changed it when he fled from his master in Baltimore in 1838. He ended up in New Bedford, Mass., where he attempted to ply his trade as a ship caulker, but settled for collecting garbage and digging cellars. In 1841, at a meeting of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society, Douglass delivered a lecture on freedom that so impressed the society that it hired him to talk publicly about his experiences as a slave. He then began a series of protests against segregation, and published his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, in 1845.

Out of fear that his identity as an escaped slave would be discovered upon publication of the Narrative, Douglass fled to England. There he spoke out against slavery and was given funds by friends to buy his freedom. He returned to the U.S. in 1847, founded an anti-slavery newspaper in Rochester, NY, and took up the cause of economic justice for freed blacks. He accused American businessmen, including some who were abolitionists, of hiring white immigrants over blacks. He also fought successfully against segregated schools in Rochester.

Douglass's home was a station on the underground railroad, which helped runaway slaves reach freedom. When the Civil War began in 1861, Douglass helped recruit blacks for the Union Army. He discussed the immorality of slavery with President Abraham Lincoln on several occasions. Finally, he wrote two expanded versions of his autobiography - My Bondage and My Freedom, and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He died in 1895.


Chris Hart
Phone: 301/445-2739