As our community once more debates the monument memorializing Confederate troops at our courthouse in Talbot County, the conversation almost always leads to a discussion of Talbot County’s ‘heritage.’ I have thought a lot about that term over the past few days. With that, please sit back and enjoy yet another white man’s take on this sensitive issue.
What action or practice qualifies as our heritage? Can heritage be good or bad, but important, nonetheless? What is the Eastern Shore’s heritage? What is Talbot County’s? The first that comes to mind is our watermen and farmers. Surely, those occupations, passed from parent to child for generations, qualify as our local heritage. As do the hobbies of sailing, biking, artistry, and more. I would also concede a person, or group of people, can become a part of a community’s heritage, if that community continues to learn from that person or people.
The statue to Frederick Douglass, colleague and confidant to arguably the greatest president this country has ever had, meets that high standard. I learned about him and his lasting impact on our society in both Easton Middle & High schools. Does a monument memorializing Confederates do that? Not even our local schools bother teaching students about it! And so, setting aside the fact that far more men from Talbot County fought for the Union Army than the Confederacy and that a monument honoring solely Confederate rebels actually distorts, rather than preserves, history, does a four year blip in the history books of Talbot County meet the high standards of determining a community’s heritage?
The Waterfowl Festival, Plein Air, even Oxford Regatta are part of this community’s heritage. These are institutions, like the Avalon Theatre, that continue to have long-lasting impacts on our community. The Confederacy lasted four years – even the band Nirvana lasted longer than the C.S.A. – it is not a part of our heritage.
Removing this monument, both the statue and the pedestal, from the grounds of our courthouse is neither an insult to the bravery of a select number of our ancestors, nor an act of political correctness. Rather, it is an acceptance that the cause for which our ancestors fought – the continued enslavement of human beings – was wrong. It is an acceptance that we as a community have grown from the days of Jim Crow and the resistance of civil rights. It is one, small way this community can attempt to heal the racial divide in this country so that a young black man never has to walk into a judicial system already rigged against him and question the cruel irony behind placing a statue of arguably the most famous abolitionist in our nation’s history opposite a memorial honoring those who fought to oppress and subjugate him.
If you want to talk to someone with a strong heritage and history of opposing the government, go talk to an Irishman – there aren’t any more Confederates left anyway. It is time to end this needlessly distracting debate over ‘heritage’ and remove this misleading and distorting monument.
Patrick Firth serves on the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee, the Board of the Talbot County Democratic Forum, and is a resident of Trappe.