The Move the Monument Coalition (MtM) is continuing its fustian efforts to remove the Talbot Boys statute from the Talbot County courthouse grounds. It, along with some Talbot County small business owners and members of the faith community, have joined the ACLU/NAACP federal lawsuit against Talbot County for removal of the Talbot Boys statute as amici. Two national organizations also filed an amici brief: Public Justice Center and Caucus of African-American Leaders (“CAAL”). These latter organizations are represented by Covington and Burling in Washington, D.C. We wonder whether the firm knows its namesake (Covington) has a history here in Easton, Maryland, and a connection to the county political Democratic elites, including the chair of the committee to erect the Talbot Boys monument in 1913; but we digress.
The mission of the Preserve Talbot History coalition (PTH) is to do just what its name states: to ensure that the history of Talbot County is told completely, without ideological bias, by publishing objective, fact based, historically documented, research and intervening where needed to keep historically significant monuments in place. It is our belief that history is to be learned from both comfortable and uncomfortable records and symbols, and that erasing any of them, just makes it easier to rewrite that history to replace pursuit of truth with narratives that justify current political positions. Many of our members have written guest commentaries and letters to the editor regarding the Talbot Boys over the last six years. We write to highlight those points and to reveal the factual inaccuracies, rhetorical excesses and legal weaknesses of MtM’s, and the original Plaintiffs’, claims.
The campaign against the Talbot Boys started in 2015, after the Emanuel AME church slaying in Charleston. There was a national campaign to remove confederate monuments and symbols, instigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which published a community action guide, including form letters to local government officials and petitions prepared by moveon.org.
The SPLC even published a “hate” map identifying the confederate monuments throughout the country (mercifully the Talbot Boys were not on the map – at least not in 2015, but it is now). The SPLC had an agenda for publicity and profit making purposes. Potter and the local NAACP branch bought into it. The Talbot County Council after public hearings voted unanimously on June 7, 2016 not to remove the statute. The Black member of the Council, Corey Pack, did not support removing the monument and gave a lengthy speech in support of the Talbot Boys remaining. The Council noted that the original civil war memorial plan, back in 1913, was for two separate monuments one for the citizens who fought for the confederacy and one for those who fought for the union (more about that later). The County Council stated it would entertain a plan for a union monument to be erected. No efforts were made in that regard.
However, the crusade did not end there. In 2019, Richard Potter and the local chapter of the NAACP capitalized on the killing of George Floyd and the national movement which swept the nation, and revived the issue of the Talbot Boys. The MtM joined the crusade. MtM is a predominately white group. Many of its more prominent “movers” do not reside in Talbot County or are relative newcomers to Talbot County. They promoted the removal of the Talbot Boys statute (again following the SPLC orchestrated campaign). Richard Potter and the NAACP tweaked their plan. Potter stated on the MtM Facebook page in January, 2020, “[t]he present monument does nothing to depict the accuracy of the civil war. What about the Union soldiers? It’s the Move the monument coalition and the NAACP who is working to get the complete history preserved.”
When public sentiment began to favor the concept of depicting the complete history by erecting either a unity monument or adding a Union monument (to include the USCT from Talbot County), Richard Potter and the NAACP backtracked on their proposal and pursued a campaign to just “move” the Talbot Boys statute off the court house green. In the years since neither the NAACP nor MtM provided the county with a plan of where and how it would be moved. We’ve just heard two years of bloviating on the issue. On August 11, 2020, the County Council once again voted to keep the Talbot Boys statute (although Councilman Pack reversed his position and voted for its removal). Having lost a second battle to have the Talbot Boys “removed”, Richard Potter, the NAACP and others filed a meritless lawsuit in federal court for removal of the statue.
PTH refutes Potter/ACLU and the amici revisionist history set forth in their pleadings.
First, the history of the Talbot Boys statute. Fortunately for Talbot countians, the truth is readily available to defeat the revisionist history movement espoused by Potter and the NAACP, and the Move the Monument (MtM) supporters and CAAL which they obviously influenced:
Lie #1: MtM supporters allege the Talbot Boys monument was erected to reinforce Jim Crow laws. FALSE. The Talbot Boys statue was not erected to exalt the “lost cause” of the Confederacy, Jim Crow laws, or white supremacy. See: Maryland and Talbot County history, including but not limited to: “T-934 Easton Confederate Monument”, Maryland Historical Trust: “[a]t the Battle of Gettysburg, the Union’s First Eastern Shore Regiment included men of Trappe’s Company H, who were sent to Culp’s Hill on July 3, 1863. There they fought troops of the First Maryland Confederate Regiment, which also included men from the Trappe area. The color sergeants for each side were cousins, both from Trappe: Robert W. Ross for the Union and P. M. Moore, fatally wounded, for the Confederates. The monument was sponsored by a committee formed in 1913 [the 50th anniversary of that Battle], chaired by Gen. Joseph B. Stein [sic Seth]. After consideration of a statue of local Adm. Franklin Buchanan, it was agreed to honor ‘all the boys in gray.’ The base was erected in July 1914; the statue was dedicated in June, 1916. Efforts in 1914 to raise funds for a Union monument were unsuccessful.” It should be noted that a member of the committee formed to raise funds for the Union memorial was the wife of one of the Talbot Boys. It is not a generic statute of a Confederate leader, nor was it erected and financed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It is a totally local monument to local veterans who fought to preserve their constitutional rights and who were particularly incensed and motivated by an event on May 27, 1862 when 125 federal troops surrounded the Talbot County courthouse, entered the courtroom, bloodily beat Judge Carmichael senseless, dragged him off the bench and imprisoned him without charge or trial. By joining the CSA, these men resisted by the only means they had at their disposal. To these men they were fighting against the government that abused their democracy and their citizens, against the tyranny they witnessed for themselves personally.
Lie #2: MtM supporters allege the Talbot Boys inspired lynchings at the Talbot County Courthouse. FALSE. According to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), there were no lynchings at the Courthouse or anywhere else in Talbot County for that matter. See here. It should be noted that the 1919 Isaac Fountain incident cited by CAAL is a misrepresentation of the case. While a mob did gather, the white Talbot County Sheriff and his deputies rescued him. He subsequently escaped. A large reward was offered, but only if he was brought back alive. He was recaptured, tried in Talbot County, and convicted, the conviction was reversed on appeal and he was retried in Baltimore County where he was convicted. Dickson Preston: Talbot County: A History. Casey Sep wrote an article about a hanging tree in Miles River Neck. Her contention was debunked. Thus when MtM and its cohorts cite her as some sort of local historian, their reliance on her allegations is misplaced and her credibility questioned.
Lie #3: MtM supporters allege the Talbot Boys fought to keep the institution slavery. FALSE. Slavery was a legal institution. It was on the decline in Maryland. Repeatedly before and during the early part of the war, Lincoln made clear his goal was to preserve the Union and not interfere with slavery where it already existed.
But Lincoln did send federal troops to occupy Maryland and suppress the unalienable rights of her citizens. The Talbot Boys resisted this federal oppression.
Lie #4. The Talbot Boys were traitors. FALSE. All confederate soldiers were granted a presidential pardon by President Andrew Jackson on December 25, 1868.
For a brief but critical moment in Talbot history, some were faced with the choice between defending their homes, families and God-given rights versus subjugating themselves to the illegal acts of the federal government. It is better to Preserve Talbot History: 1) to remember the tyranny that our own federal government can bring to bear against us, if we allow it; and 2) to support a Talbot Union Boys monument to remember those who fought to preserve the Union and, for some, to gain their freedom.
Thus, the suggestion then that the Talbot Boys personified racism and white supremacy in Talbot County, were traitors, and the Talbot Boys statue is a monument to such and must be removed, is just wrong. The assertion that the statue is an exemplification of the segregationist Jim Crow period is a fallacious, baseless, assertion.
Second, the most infuriating and malicious assertion made by the Plaintiffs Potter/NAACP, et. al., and their amici, is the claim that the statue sends a message to people of color that they cannot get justice in Talbot County; that “for Black employees and litigants entering the courthouse, the statue is, in its least damaging capacity, intimidating and demoralizing.” They don’t cite any complaints or statistics in that regard; just self-serving, uncorroborated, statements by two of the Plaintiffs (Potter and Petticolas). This is a pure and unmitigated baseless allegation.
One of our members is a member of the Talbot County Bar and has practiced law in Talbot County and the Mid-Shore since 1979. In the 80’s she served as Assistant Public Defender for Talbot County. When the Maryland Office of the Public Defender (a co-Plaintiff with the ACLU/NAACP) insinuates in the lawsuit that our judicial system is racist and Blacks cannot obtain a fair trial because the Talbot Boys statute sends that message, it is untrue- a libelous allegation against the county judicial system: the Office of States Attorney, all the 5 Circuit Court Judges still living (on occasion the 4 retired judges are called to serve), our Magistrate, not to mention the Public Defender’s Office, and the County Clerk’s Office. Interesting, Potter and the NAACP do not mention that when the State created the judicial position of Master for the Mid-Shore in 1998, the first appointment to the position, serving in Talbot County, was one of the members of the local chapter of the NAACP, who is Black. She continues to serve, albeit, primarily in Caroline County now, because now each county has a Master/magistrate. She is part of the system which they now impugn. Talbot County is a small county of approximately 37,000 and the justice received spreads by word of mouth not by the presence of a statute on the courthouse green. Again they have adopted SPLC or BLM talking points which are irrelevant to our County. The Talbot County judicial system is not racist. Our citizens know that.
The MtM and others argue that the placement of the Talbot Boys was purposeful to intimidate those walking into the courthouse. What they do not realize is that it is only recently (when the metal detector was installed in the Courthouse after 9/11) that there has been only one entrance to the courthouse. Prior to that there were four entrances, two of which did not involve having to view the Talbot Boys.
Third, the most hypocritical and unsubstantiated argument asserted by MtM in its brief is that the Talbot Boys statute will have a detrimental effect on Talbot County economic development and small businesses. The skyrocketing real estate prices, the influx of new residents (about 60% of home purchases are by out of county residents); the development of the downtown by Prager, the Easton Point project, and the continuous opening of chain stores (Kohls, Big Lots, Target, etc. – soon Home Depot) all belie their allegations (in fact, chain/big box stores are probably more of a threat to the viability of small businesses than the Talbot Boys). It should be noted that one of the amici small businesses is The Race Thing, Inc. (“a media company whose objective is to discuss race and race relations”) formed by Councilman Corey Pack’s daughter in 2020.
Fourth, Talbot and Dorchester counties have sought, for years, to make this a tourist destination for civil war history. Our Mid Shore is a model for contextual history. We have the Talbot Boys statute and feet away the larger and more prominent statue of Frederick Douglass. More recently is the opening of the Frederick Douglass Park on the Tuckahoe, Operation Frederick Douglass on the Hill project, and, of course, The Hill itself. A few miles away are the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center and the Harriet Tubman Museum & Educational Center Museum. The underground railway trail can be followed through 2 Mid Shore counties. In summary on this point, one has to be oblivious to the history depicted on the courthouse lawn – the history of the Talbot Boys statue, and the history of the Frederick Douglass statue – to conclude anything other than that the tableau presented on the courthouse lawn is one of Confederate defeat, and freedom from slavery, attributable in part to the influence of a notable person of color, Frederick Douglass.
Finally to our faith leaders, do you not believe in forgiveness? Forgiveness and letting go can lead you down the path of healing and peace… Frederick Douglass did when he came to Talbot County in the 1870s and visited the families who had enslaved him, realizing the enslavers were as much victims of the system as he was. See: Dickson J. Preston: Young Frederick Douglass, The Maryland Years. The veterans of the Union and Confederate armies who returned home forgave each other and held joint reunions. President Andrew Johnson with his pardon started a process of national reconciliation.
The PTH Coalition seeks to promote Talbot County and the Mid Shore as a model of integrated and reconciled civil war history. Accordingly we seek and support adding a Union monument: build up rather than tear down. Fulfill the original plan approved by the County Council in 1913 – a union and confederate statue – with a 21st century view: including a memorial to the USCT, especially the Unionville 18. Why should recognition of them be segregated to only Unionville?
Preserve Talbot History
Lynn Leonhardt Mielke, Secretary