After reading dozens of articles and letters asking for removal of the Confederate statue from the Courthouse lawn–and even a few that supported its remaining there–I would like offer another perspective I don’t think the statue issue is a matter of history, nor a legal matter nor a political matter. Simply put, it’s a matter of human decency.
It is astonishing that an extensive report on the state of the county by the president of the Talbot County Council (in The Star Democrat for July 11) didn’t even mention the statue as a major ongoing problem. This while The Talbot Boys has had repeated coverage in local and national news, including half-page articles with photos in The Washington Post and stories in Atlantic and New Yorker magazines, all of which suggest to a countrywide audience that our community remains a bastion of unashamed government-supported racism.
The fact that a majority of the County Council persists in keeping the statue in place can be interpreted as nothing but an expression of contempt for their African American constituents. Insofar as I am aware, virtually none of the ancestors of today’s Black residents came here voluntarily. Rather, they were enslaved and brought here to be sold, worked to death for no pay, and denied basic human rights for hundreds of years. Is it any wonder that their descendents do not want to see the Confederacy honored when they go to the Courthouse to pay their tax bills at the county finance office?
Thus it’s no surprise that our Black citizens and many others insist that the statue be removed as an expression of respect and consideration–just as Confederate statues and flags have been taken down in places such as Mississippi and South Carolina, and just recently in Richmond and Charlottesville.
It is no longer the early nineteenth century when Black people were treated as personal property to be bought and sold at whim, nor is it the Jim Crow era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when they were segregated and deprived of rights until the enactment of civil rights legislation in the 1960s. It is now the twenty-first century and times have changed. Americans of all races now demand and deserve equal treatment by their government. Why can’t the members of the Talbot County Council get that?
Moreover, the notion that adding a second statue of a Union soldier might solve the problem only adds insult to injury. Such an arrangement would suggest the Union and Confederate causes were equivalent, which clearly is not the case. The fact is that the Union was on the right side (maintenance of the United States of America as one country) and the other side was wrong (establishment of the Confederate States of America as a separate country specifically to protect slavery in Southern states and territories). Who today will not acknowledge that slavery was truly evil?
The present statue situation is divisive and unnecessary, as well as an embarrassment to Talbot County. More important, it is a continuing and deliberate insult and affront to our African American citizens and their many supporters of all races.
I will close with what I think is an apt paraphrase of the famous statement of attorney Joseph Welch to rogue Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, which I ask that the three pro-statue members of the County Council read and take to heart: “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”
Gerry Early is the former director of the Talbot County Arts Council. Prior to that appointment, he was a career officer in the U.S. Army.