If we are not African Americans, why should we care about Juneteenth and a boys’ statue in the park? Don’t we have more important things to worry about? The straight answer is no; the coming Juneteenth and the Easton demonstration is crucial for all of us. Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery, when the Union Army liberated the last slaves in Galveston, Texas. But this year, the demonstration planned for Easton has a greater significance. It’s an opportunity to banish the specter of segregation, once for all from Talbot County. And that can only be achieved through the active participation of all of us, the non-African Americans.
Let’s not fool ourselves; the Talbot Boys monument was not erected to celebrate Civil War heroes. Talbot could have honored the eighteen former slaves from Unionville who joined the 7th Regiment of the Union Colored Infantry. They drove away Lee’s troops from Richmond, and beat him in Appomattox, assuring us the one Nation indivisible that we honor in the Pledge of Allegiance. But we didn’t. The eighteen brave soldiers of Unionville are humbly buried in St Stephen’s Church Cemetery, while Talbot County in 1916 chose to celebrate the Confederate Army with a monument at the county courtroom lawn.
People talk about preserving history, but first, we have to understand it. The Talbot Boys statue was not an isolated monument. It was part of a set of concerted hostilities against the newly liberated African Americans after the Civil War. It was the time of Jim Crow laws and regulations. The eighteen of Unionville were free and equal, but the true is that Maryland wanted them separated. African Americans, heroes or not, were forced to travel in separate cars in trains, steamboats, and streetcars, and in 1884, the Maryland legislature reaffirmed its opposition to interracial marriage. A person guilty of this “infamous” crime could be sentenced to imprisonment for between 18 months to ten years.
Even the 15th Amendment ensuring African Americans the right to vote that was ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1870, was rejected by the State of Maryland. Three amendments were proposed on our State, explicitly threatening to eliminate African Americans’ right to vote, the Poe Amendment (1905), the Strauss Amendment (1908), and the Digges Amendment (1910). All of them were rejected by Maryland voters, indicating that the citizens’ majority did not support racist political decisions.
At the beginning of the century, former slaves emancipated by the Union started to move to the cities, and in 1910 a Baltimore city ordinance prohibited African Americans from buying or living on blocks where a majority of existing occupants were white. And that is when, to reaffirm its choice, the city of Easton erected the Talbot Boys statue. And if you think that the Easton statue is unique, you are wrong. Many statues celebrating the Confederate Army were built around those years, including the South Defenders Monument in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is an exact twin statue of the Talbot Boys, funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization that also financed a Ku Klux Klan monument in Concord, North Carolina.
The Talbot Boys is not an innocent and harmless monument. Its purpose was to reaffirm segregation, and we, the non-African American citizens of Talbot, are also responsible for it. Juneteenth is our chance for reconciliation. We can silently stay at home or go to the street to loudly and indisputably say that there is no more place for racism and segregation in Talbot County.