Were I the Confederate soldier portrayed in life size atop a pedestal in front of Talbot County Courthouse, looking out on the world as it today, I just might say: “Tear me down. Move me somewhere else. I serve no value here. I am viewed as a traitor to my country. By what I represent, I am a divider. Birds might like me. People with consciences and sense of equity do not.”
The Talbot Boys Monument, which contains the names of 84 Confederate veterans of the Civil War, was conceived and funded by people who intended to glorify troops who fought to preserve slavery and gloss over the nefarious institution that defined the South and stained America.
It is not really history. Instead, it is “spin,’ designed to terrorize African-Americans who had the temerity to believe our nation actually stood for freedom and equality after the Civil War. They were right about our values in 1916, when the statue was dedicated. They are right now.
Those who have blocked blacks from achieving equal status and well-deserved respect must face facts:
Understandably rocked by the brutal and unnecessary killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police on May 25, 2020, black and white citizens are now saying that enough is enough. Senseless, bigoted violence must stop. Police officers who fail to act in a restrained manner must be held accountable.
Removal of the Talbot Boys Monument from public space and the implied endorsement of the “Lost Cause” by Talbot County government and citizens can wait no longer. Vision of an incremental approach, such as display of an interpretive plaque explaining the destructive and subversive effect of secession, no longer would satisfy this writer.
The Confederate cause was propelled by belief in the sanctity of slavery. “Negroes” were second-class citizens whose rightful place in society was to serve white masters and relinquish their humanity.
The tide has turned.
A monument, like others in the South, evokes hostility and hatred on a public square. It serves no useful purpose. White supremacists were wrong in 1914 when construction of the Talbot Boys statue began; their actions belied a generosity of spirit and belief in equality for all. This shameful charade must come to a humane stop.
A statement released last week by the National Trust for Historic Preservation said, “We believe it is past time for us, as a nation, to acknowledge that these symbols (Confederate monuments) do not reflect, and are in fact abhorrent to our values and to our foundational obligation to continue building a more perfect union that embodies equality and justice for all.”
Our severely divided and dysfunctional nation cries out for unity. Confederate monuments divide. They stand out as repudiation of decency and oneness. Masters and slaves not only are archaic; they are anathema to the values that should undergird our democracy.
Skin color is not a penal sentence to invisibility and mistreatment.
It can’t be. Otherwise, we all are destined to be judged and treated based not on our character and personal quality, but on our defining physical and ethnic differences.
Perhaps no one in recent history has been more eloquent and passionate about the overriding need to remove Confederate statues than former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who spoke about their removal in May 2017. He said:
“We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations.
“And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to the future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
These words are powerful ones, beseeching us to be fair and free of irrational hatred and bigotry.
Imagining that I am the Confederate soldier trying to understand our nation as one meant to be unified, not riven by discord and discrimination, I would consider that I served bravely but ill-advisedly. I fought to continue subjugating people based solely on their skin color. I didn’t understand that one nation under God elicits a belief in goodness and grace.
The Talbot Boys Monument must be taken now. It should not involve years of dialogue.
We’ve had those discussions. It should be moved, not destroyed.
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.