Some of my best friends on the Eastern Shore, especially those in Talbot County, are tired of the debate over whether the statue of the Talbot Boys should be removed from its honored home in front of the county’s courthouse. We need to preserve history and avoid the ‘cancel culture,’ I am told. I am also told that the statue is ‘beautiful’ and is “balanced out” by the nearby statue of Frederick Douglass.
I call these friends and neighbors “Modern Talbot Boys and Girls.” That is not meant to be offensive, but rather to suggest that, like the “Talbot Boys” honored by the monument, those opposed to removing it are, in my opinion, misguided. They are on the wrong side of justice and, if you will, history.
I am not calling anyone against moving the statue a “racist.” While some racism still exists in Talbot County, most people I have discussed the issue with do not seem to appreciate how offensive and hurtful it is to people of color. That lack of understanding is not necessarily racism. It is, however, something that should be addressed. The recently filed lawsuit, especially the fact-filled complaint, helps address this problem. It not only makes a persuasive case for removing the statue but is educational as well.
In suggesting that everyone better inform themselves about the history of the statue and why its continued presence in front of the courthouse is a problem, I am not asking anyone to do anything other than to give the facts surrounding this divisive issue a closer look.
I have read that history and am convinced the statue needs to be moved. I may be naïve, but I think most of us will agree that the statue should be removed after learning more about it. Those of us who oppose moving the statue should read the lawsuit just filed in support of removing it. It may not convince you to change your mind, but it will help you understand why so many consider the statue problematic.
I have chosen only a few excerpts from the complaint. You will find reading the entire 54-page document educational. It describes how the monument came to be where it is today, the history of racism in Talbot County, and explains why the statue injures people today.
Here are the excerpts:
“The so-called ‘Talbot Boys’ statue—an homage to traitors to the United States and to the State of Maryland, who fought to sustain the enslavement and subjugation of Black people and to tear apart the Union—cannot remain on government property consistent with the core promise of the Fourteenth Amendment to all Americans: equality under the law.”
“Erected 50 years after the Civil War had ended and during the Jim Crow era, the statue was funded primarily by a prominent white lawyer who had repeatedly made disparaging public remarks about Black Americans and embraced ideals of slavery. . . Against this backdrop, it is clear that the Talbot Boys statue, like numerous other Confederate monuments once standing across the country, was created to pay homage to a slaveowning society that lost the Civil War, and was principally intended to serve as an overt expression of white dominance over Black people. “
“Before the Civil War, Talbot County had the tenth largest slave population in the state—nearly 4,000 people were enslaved in the county. Easton’s port had become a hub for the domestic slave trade, and the town’s slave market was located on the very grounds where the courthouse and the Talbot Boys statue now stand.”
“The statue’s origin traces directly back to the violence of Jim Crow, which followed post -Civil War Reconstruction. It was erected at a time when Confederate statues were used as a means of racial intimidation.“
“Black people and others have to pass the statue to get a marriage license, serve on a jury, attend and petition their county officials at Council meetings, and go to court. “
“The statue’s depiction of Confederate imagery, including a Rebel soldier with a ‘C.S.A’ belt buckle, a Confederate battle flag, and the inscription “CSA,” intentionally and overtly invokes the spirit of that racially discriminatory set of values, no less offensive and racially discriminatory than if Talbot County paid live humans to shout racial epithets or installed a public address system through which racial epithets were aired 24 hours a day.”
“Not only is the Talbot Boys statue a symbol of past and present discrimination against Black people, but it is an active instrument of it. Every judge, juror, and attorney who enters the Talbot County courthouse must pass by this symbol of government support for white supremacy. Additionally, every Black person who wishes to enter the courthouse to exercise other fundamental rights, such as the right to marriage by obtaining a marriage license, must pass by it, knowing its demeaning history and knowing that it attracts those who hold racist and white supremacist views.”
If the lawsuit is successful, Talbot County would be required to remove the statue from its current location. The County would also be prohibited from moving it to other grounds or property owned by or managed by the County.
I hope nobody is outraged or offended by my quoting the complaint. All of us in Talbot County will be better off when the troubled history embodied by the Talbot Boys statue is addressed. We should remember the past so we do not repeat it, but we also must evolve to a more enlightened perspective and redouble our efforts to eradicate racism.
And where do I think the statue should go? Let me suggest a museum of reconciliation—a learning center where Marylanders can learn about our painful past and what later generations did to right past wrongs.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.