Six years after the Talbot County Council’s decision to not remove the Talbot Boys Confederate Monument on public space in front of the courthouse, followed by thousands and thousands of words written since then commending and criticizing the decision, the impasse still exists.
Wretchedly fatal treatment of Blacks by White policemen in Minneapolis, Minn. and other cities, sparking national unrest and the Black Lives Matter Movement, has not swayed Talbot County’s elected leaders, except in the case of Corey Pack. Councilman Pete Lesher has long supported removal.
What we have is a shameful lack of leadership. What we have too is a school of thought that the Civil War was not fought over slavery. It was about state’s rights and regional sovereignty, according to these historical revisionists.
I wonder if supporters of retaining the Confederate monument consider the Holocaust a hoax. I wonder if they believe there were good people in the ranks of the rioters in Charlottesville, VA that resulted in the death of a young woman in August 2017.
Were there a sense of leadership among Council President Chuck Callahan, Frank Divilio and Laura Price, unity could be accomplished. It would require a measure of courage and a dose of concern about the prolonged damage to a county devoted to goodness and grace, not close-mindedness and mean-spiritedness.
Why do I feel so sure that the weak-kneed county council could achieve unity in the face of divisive controversy? Because I witnessed it first-hand from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who acted boldly and decisively when he thought he was right.
In 1994, Gov. Schaefer was almost solely responsible for the installation of the first, and perhaps still the only, monument at the sacred Gettysburg Battlefield showing a Union and a Confederate soldier helping each other off the battlefield. It contains no partisan symbols. It conveys an eerie sense of human compassion.
This beautiful statue faces Culp’s Hill, where two Maryland militia units fought against each other. It was in that battle when two cousins from Trappe, MD literally confronted each other as flag bearers representing opposing sides.
Just imagine, 129 years after the bloody Battle of Gettysburg, not too from the Maryland border, a symbol of unity and respect tells the story so poignantly about differing sentiments in our border state.
I was the project officer for Nov. 11, 1994 ceremony. I witnessed the incredible show of leadership and compassion of Gov. Schaefer, a World War II veteran. He cared only about honoring those who fought for both sides in our nation’s destructive Civil War.
In typical Schaefer fashion, he acted, unafraid to open festering emotional wounds. He raised all the money privately. He found a gifted sculptor in Dallas, Texas.
A friend said recently that Schaefer’s style would not succeed on the Eastern Shore. I agree. He had learned politics in the not so gentle political battleground of Baltimore City. He also understood the need to proceed aggressively at times, damn the torpedoes. He instinctively knew how to energize and enthuse his constituents.
He sought results, instead of eternal chatter and disagreement.
My advice to the county council would be to appoint a task force of respected citizens representing Talbot’s diversity and led by co-chairs known for their equanimity. This group would have a six-month deadline to develop a recommendation after conducting public hearings in every part of the county. Then, the county council would deliberate publicly and possibly hold additional hearings.
Once a decision is made, based on a design approved in a competition and a price determined, I recommend that the county council would put up half the cost, with the other half raised privately.
I strongly suggest that the existing monument be removed and replaced with one devoid of divisive symbols. The only symbol would be unity. It would have no reference to slavery. Just unity. It would refer in no way to revisionist history or the calumny that dominates the Talbot Spy’s voluminous comments, or the Star Democrat’s letters section.
One final word: “Do It Now,” as Gov. Schaefer was wont to say in his inimitably impatient but sensible way.
It is time to bridge the chasm in Talbot County.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.