On the same historic night of the announcement of America’s first Black female nominee on a major party ticket, Talbot County Council members voted against the removal of a Confederate statue from its courthouse lawn. The statue, named Talbot Boys, depicts a soldier carrying the Confederate flag and commemorates 84 Confederate soldiers who fought against their country and the more than 400 Union soldiers from Talbot County, Md. during the Civil War.
A new era for anti-racism
Social media has made it hard to look away from situations that make us uncomfortable, and it has changed how we see the world. Americans now witness a frequent deluge of viral videos exposing blatant racism and structural inequalities, from the retaliation of a white woman threatening to call the cops on a Black birdwatcher in Central Park to the horrific murder of George Floyd who died with the knee of a white police officer on his neck.
Over the past several months, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained significant and wide support from all ethnic and racial groups, including white Americans. An increased outcry for racial justice has led both protestors and public officials to remove dozens of Confederate statues. In Mississippi, lawmakers agreed to replace the Confederate emblem from their state flag, and in Richmond Va., once the capital of the Confederacy, the monument of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, was removed.
As a nationwide reckoning occurs, residents on the Eastern Shore of Maryland have practiced their democratic right to protest. They have done so peacefully, in towns such as Easton, Chestertown, St. Michaels, Salisbury, and Cambridge.
Talbot County clings to its Confederate statue
Elected officials across the U.S. have decided that their communities cannot live in peace while Confederate statues remain. Unfortunately, Talbot County Council members Laura Price, Chuck Callahan, and Frank Divilio, chose to ignore the divisiveness perpetuated by the presence of the Talbot Boys statue and disregarded calls for its removal by peaceful protestors and fellow Council President Corey Pack and Councilman Pete Lesher.
The three Council members who voted against the statue’s removal used thinly veiled excuses to justify their votes. They cited the pandemic’s interference with in-person public comments, the need to preserve history, and even though they were elected to represent their constituents, they claimed that the decision should be made by the people through a ballot initiative, which would not occur until 2022. To be clear, the pandemic did not stop public officials from removing Confederate statues in towns and cities such as Alexandria, Va., Louisville, Ky., Jacksonville, Fl., Asheville, Nc., Birmingham, Al., Denton, Tx, and more.
Like most Confederate statues, the construction of the Talbot Boys monument did not directly follow the end of the Civil War in 1865; instead, its creation occurred during the Jim Crow segregation era when Confederate statues were used as a means of racial intimidation. During the same era that the Talbot Boys statue was erected, gruesome lynchings occurred along Eastern Shore.
Proponents of the statue argue that keeping it preserves history. Still, for people of color, that history is a painful reminder of slavery and a time when many of their ancestors lacked fundamental human rights. Bluntly, all monuments idealizing Confederate troops are rooted in racist beliefs and are intentionally oppressive. These statues place white supremacy on a pedestal by perpetuating a myth that people who fought to maintain the institution of slavery were war heroes.
Cultivating a better community for all on the Eastern Shore
We want to live in a community that is engaging in continuing education and allyship, not afraid of it. As individuals who have moved here, categorized by the local term “come here’s,” we have grown to love the Eastern Shore for many of the same reasons that lifelong residents do.
However, we are greatly disappointed by the County Council’s decision to delay the removal of the Talbot statue and the excuse that “well, it’s just the Eastern Shore,” cannot and will not be accepted. Do we want to be the last place in Maryland with a Confederate statue on a state-owned property? Sadly, we know some white people will say yes to that question, but many will not.
As white individuals, we will never be able to fully understand how community members of color feel when walking underneath a confederate statue, especially when that statue is on a courthouse lawn, a place meant to ensure justice and equality for all. Yet we can listen to, believe in, and take the painful emotions seriously that they have expressed. We can become better allies by showing up to support racial equality and speak up when we see racist acts. This is well within our capabilities. We know it is in yours as well.
We encourage all to learn more about the available resources in your community and dive deeper into understanding why this interpretation and idealization of history are oppressive. Continue to critically think, discuss, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Lastly, evaluate if your elected officials are the people you want leading us during this time of social transformation.
Myra Ray-Howett is public administration fellow at Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration College of Arts & Sciences of the University of Delaware. Katelyn Kean is the registrar for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.