A Confederate monument on the Talbot County courthouse lawn in Easton is racist and unconstitutional, said civil rights groups who filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to remove the Jim Crow-era statue.
The Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the Talbot County NAACP branch argue in the newly filed lawsuit that by keeping up the Confederate statue — a century-old monument to county residents who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War and the last Confederate monument on public land in Maryland — county officials are violating both state and federal laws.
The plaintiffs want the statue removed from the grounds of the Talbot County Courthouse.
The lawsuit represents the latest step in a years-long effort by activists to remove the statue from the courthouse grounds. After Talbot County Council members rejected a proposal to move the statue last year, rallies calling for the removal the Confederate monument continued. At a Wednesday press conference, the lawsuit’s plaintiffs said repeated rejections from county officials forced them to take legal action.
The ACLU of Maryland, alongside Crowell & Moring LLP, an international law firm based in Washington, D.C., is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Dana Vickers Shelley, the executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said Wednesday that both the county courthouse and the statue sit on the grounds of a former slave market.
“It is beyond time for this racist symbol of violence and oppression to be removed,” Vickers Shelley said.
“The Talbot Boys statue says just this: ‘In this building, white people are given priority over Black people;’ and ‘Justice for Black people means something different than what Justice means for white people means.’ To view it differently is to ignore objective fact,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs argue that the presence of the monument on the courthouse grounds violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection of laws. The Talbot Boys statue’s location is “facially discriminatory,” the lawsuit reads.
“In short, the statue says symbolically no less clearly than were it emblazoned on the front entrance to the courthouse that Black people do not enjoy the ‘equal protection of the laws,’” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit notes that roughly 12.8% of Talbot County’s more than 37,000 residents are Black.
“That any government in the United States would continue to maintain the symbolism of white supremacy and promote a legacy of racial subjugation should shock the conscience,” the complaint reads. “That Talbot County does so on a courthouse lawn — a place of prominence that holds itself out as the seat of justice in the county; a place that county citizens pay for and maintain with tax dollars, including the tax dollars of its Black citizens who are overtly denigrated and humiliated by the statue — only compounds the unconscionability of the statue and illuminates its illegality.”
Kisha Petticolas, an assistant public defender in Talbot County and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she has to walk past the statue on a daily basis for her work. Petticolas, who is Black, said the monument is a painful reminder of “hate, oppression and white supremacy” to both herself and her clients.
“My clients who are walking into the courthouse, hoping to be given a fair shot at justice, are walking onto a courthouse lawn that still celebrates the Confederacy,” Petticolas said. “It is beyond time for this statue to be removed from the courthouse grounds.”
In addition to violating the 14th Amendment, plaintiffs argue that county officials are violating other federal laws and Maryland’s own constitution by keeping the statue in place in front of the courthouse.
Richard Potter, the president of the Talbot County NAACP and a plaintiff, said his organization has been asking county council members to remove the statue since after the 2015 murder of nine Black people during Bible study by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina.
That effort was rebuffed by council members, who have also rejected subsequent efforts. Potter noted that calls to remove the statue were revived after the murder of George Floyd last year, but even amid a wave of Confederate monument removals across the country, county council members voted 3-2 against removing the Talbot Boys statue.
“The council left us with no other choice but to take this action,” Potter said Wednesday. “We have waited long enough.”
In voting to keep the monument up last year, the council majority said the fate of the Talbot Boys statue should be decided by community members instead of the county government.
“This should be in the hands of the community, and not our hands,” Council Vice President Charles F. Callahan III (R), who voted to keep the statue in place, said at the time.
Council President Corey W. Pack (R) and Councilman Peter Lesher (D) voted to remove the monument, while the other Republicans on the council, Laura E. Price and Frank Divilio, voted to keep the statue.
Callahan did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Confederate monuments were removed from public grounds in Maryland and across the United States last year amid widespread protests against systemic racism and police brutality. In one of his final acts as Wicomico County executive before his death last year, Bob Culver (R) removed a Confederate marker in Salisbury.
During their 2021 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers voted to repeal “Maryland, My Maryland,” with its pro-Confederate lyrics, as the official state song.
Read the full complaint here:1-main
By Bennett Leckrone
Letters to Editor
Marjorie K Hottel says
Statute must be moved. Taken to another place where history can be represented. A history of the statue and its date of placement should accompany it.
But to be on public land, not alone judicial land, is against many constitutional amendments and against plain common sense. Statues should represent that which we hold true and just, not slavery, traitors to our laws flaunting the anti United States flag.
Do not see listed here any mention of payment for pain and suffering. That is separate issue and should not be included in this action.
Keith Alan Watts, Esq. says
* * * *
Look at Them. There.
In your mirror, They stare,
Back at You.
Souls across four hundred years — and more,
Crowd into your looking glass,
Asking hearts of stone — stone — for change.
Why do cling to this mistake?
“The Boys” made it. Still again, Talbot makes it.
Is it because it took so long to make it?
“Why is it ‘Precious?’, when compared to respecting and loving your fellow man?
Dystopian “historians,” — will you trade places with us?
Shackles on our ankles?
Mothers forever torn from children? No?
Just because we are Spirit does not mean we cannot speak.
And, we know — You can hear.
Not just drums, horns and pleadings for Justice outside “The Room of Empty Talk.”
But the deafening silence that haunts You,
In moments of seeming quietude.
There’s no escape.
The Dead are listening. The Righteous are listening. The Angels are listening. No longer patiently waiting Your eternity.
When will You answer? When?
Now it seems, someone else will.
Make way, then. Righteousness is the way. Righteousness will win this day.
Without You. Or with You?
* * * *
Debbie Jeon says
This is just lovely, Keith Watts.
Keith Alan Watts. Esq. says
Thank you for the kind words.
BettyAnn Seabury says
Your poem gave me “goosebumps” and made me think of the book I am reading “The Book of Lost Friends”. The stories of families held in bondage, torn apart before, during and after the Civil War are heartbreaking. On this Mother’s Day weekend, I can’t think of a situation more tragic.
Talbot County, please consider “respecting and loving” your fellow man.
Keith Alan Watts, Esq. says
Thank you for your kind words.
David Tull says
Leave history alone you bunch of socialist ba##ards.
Michael Davis says
Talbot’s County Council brought this on. They should donate personal funds to defend the county rather than pass the bill to the taxpayers – many of whom knew the statute was racist years ago.
Paul Callahan says
The Talbot Boys monument is a tribute to our local ancestors who responded to the greatest crushing of civil liberties ever experienced by the citizens of a free State in the history of our Nation. These men were patriotic Americans who responded as would be expected of any patriot when their Constitutional protections their forefathers fought and sacrificed to obtain were unlawfully taken from the free citizens of Maryland, when their democratic government was subverted, their homeland unlawfully occupied, their legislature arrested and their local judge beaten and imprisoned for attempting to uphold the US Constitution.
The evidence is both clear and overwhelming that not only were the actions of the Federal government against the free state and free citizens of Maryland unlawful and unconstitutional but the motivations and actions of our Talbot ancestors were a direct response to these Constitutional abuses.
The research of the enlistment records of the Talbot residents that fought for the Confederacy reveal that nearly 60% of these men enlisted within a few months after Federal troops surrounded our courthouse and beat and imprisoned judge Carmichael. This was after our State legislature, our US Congressman and the government of Baltimore had been arrested. This was after martial law declared and Maryland occupied against her will. This was after it had become apparent that our citizens were being taken from their homes in the dead of night by Federal troops to be imprisoned without trial. This is after it had become apparent that the occupation of Maryland by Northern troops was not benevolent with many rapes, beatings, unlawful searches and confiscations of property and valuables from our citizens.
The overwhelming show of Federal power by surrounding our courthouse and beating our judge who’s only crime was his attempt to uphold the US constitution was a message to our citizens and to all that Federal authority was absolute and resistance to such futile. The government’s message and show of force backfired and directly caused many citizens to turn against and resist the Union. This was not the democracy that their forefathers had sacrificed to obtain and is why direct descendants of our revolutionary war patriots enlisted for the Confederacy after the beating of Judge Carmichael.
Analysis of the enlistment dates of our men also refute the false accusation that they were motivated to fight for the cause of slavery. After the Emancipation Proclamation, where Mr. Lincoln made abolition a war aim, and even starting with the date of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation three months earlier, the monthly enlistment rates of Talbot Countians for the Confederacy dropped to less than 4% of the rate they were enlisting prior to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation.
This monument should remain, with additional explanative markers as appropriate, as a testament that the Constitutional freedoms and liberties which most Americans take for granted has in the past been unlawfully taken from our citizens by the very government who’s existence and purpose was to protect the same. This monument should remain as a reminder to current and future generations that ultimately the responsibility to protect and advance our freedoms and liberties rests upon their shoulders and such diligence should not be entrusted to our political government that has a history of direct abuses against her citizens and has allowed and been complacent towards past constitutional, human and civil rights abuses or her citizens.
Jane Murphy says
I agree that the citizens of Talbot County should not bear the cost of defending this lawsuit. The Talbot County Council should have recognized long ago that this statue does not belong on public land for all the reasons laid out in the complaint filed this week. I urge all to read the complaint for a thorough and accurate history of the statue and the events leading to the lawsuit as well as the legal bases for its removal.
Paul Callahan says
It is not accurate history… it is propaganda that is meant to manipulate and that has been proven false by original source documents. For accurate history, directly from original sources, go to http://www.preserve Talbot history.org
B Thompson says
Here’s an idea. Let’s put up a statue to honor the Tories who opposed independence of the colonies from the British king. There were plenty of them on the Shore and Talbot had its share. I suppose they thought their ideologies were honorable and brave, too. Let’s “preserve” all our history. All our traitors.
Glenn Baker says
Imagine what took place in 1861 being repeated today. The Star/Dem and Talbot Spy editors locked in jail. Our local state representatives locked in Ft. McHenry. Our sheriff and city mayors locked in jail. Our local judge beaten and locked in jail. Federal troops camped near Easton, patrolling Easton daily for the next four years. I’m afraid there is not enough “Safe” places for the current level of weak citizens of our poor State when the despots foot is on our throat My, how times have changed.
Paul Callahan says
These people would have no problem with these actions as long as someone in the government first labeled them a “conservative sympathizer” before they were imprisoned without trial.
Deirdre LaMotte says
Imagine in 2021 an armed insurrection of our nations’s Capital. And these anti-democracy crusaders were
opposing an election that was the most secure in our History. Now imagine people in the 19th century rebelling
against the US Government in order to keep people in bondage.
Maintaining a democracy is work. Every citizen must keep up the fight to protect it because there are many who
do not want a democracy and the rights of all to be a part of it.
Paul Callahan says
Please find a good civil war history book from a well respected historian and read it.
Sarah Oppenheimer says
The time has come to take that Democrat statue down. Perhaps replace it with a Republican one. Harriet Tubman?
Willard T Engelskirchen says
Might I suggest that all of us read Ty Seidule’s book “Robert E Lee and Me: A Southerners Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause.” By the way, the author is a retired Brig. General and headed the History Department at West Point.
Lets get some reason into this debate. There is no justification to keep the statute where it is.
Debbie Jeon says