Although the county council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to move the Confederate statue on the courthouse grounds to a Civil War national historic district near Harrisonburg, Va., advocates for keeping the monument at its current location, or at least in Talbot County, say the fight is not over.
During public comments near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, Preserve Talbot History’s president said the foundation that leads the preservation efforts at the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District said in a Tuesday afternoon letter that it would only accept Talbot’s monument “if it will not and cannot stay safely here.
“They’re not welcoming this statue as something ‘Oh, this is fantastic, we always wanted to have the Talbot boys statue in the corner here,'” David Montgomery said. “They’re taking it because they’ve been assured that we’re going to tear it down, melt it, or put it in a warehouse. Those are their conditions. That should have been made clear to the council when this proposal was set up to vote….”
The Sept. 14 letter from the executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation says the foundation’s position is that monuments should remain in their original location whenever possible and that an attempt should be made to relocate the monument in Talbot County if it is removed from its current location. If the monument must be moved out of the county, the foundation said it remained “committed to its offer to become its permanent steward….”
According to the email headers The Spy has viewed, the letter was emailed at 3:49 p.m. Tuesday and sent to all five county council members. The Spy does not know when it was actually received by the council members, whose meeting Tuesday night began at 6 p.m. with the discussion of the administrative resolutions concerning the Confederate monument beginning at about 6:37 p.m.
The full text of the foundation’s letter is below:Talbot Boys Monument
The letter refers to the foundation’s monument policy, which is posted on its website:SVBFMonumentPolicy
Montgomery also challenged the process by which the relocation vote had occurred.
“(T)his was done in such a surreptitious manner, that won’t be forgotten,” he said. “A policy decision like this should not be made through a procedural maneuver that eliminates not only public comment, (but also) the time for this council to review thoroughly, to know what the battlefield … looks like, to know what the arrangements are for moving it, to know how that can be done safely, even to know whether the base is going to go along with it or not. All that’s missing…. No matter what the legal cover… this was a fundamental policy decision.”
Montgomery said sincere efforts should be made “…to find a place in Talbot County for this memorial … if this council is determined to take it out of its current place.
“I hope the move the monument will support that objective. They’ve said all along that all they want to do is move the monument and find another place in Talbot County for it,” he said.
Lynn Mielke, who has supported keeping the monument at its current location, said she has been involved in the issue since 2015.
“And I would suggest that it’s not over yet,” she said.
Mielke said her main reason to speak Tuesday night, however, was to share “… an observation that I’ve made over those years, as well as tonight. That observation is of the residents of Talbot County. And how no one’s come and torn down the monument. No one has defaced it or put paint on it. It’s been courteous and … the protests for its removal is very consistent with what the founding fathers had saw in terms of peaceful protest and sharing opinions.
“Tonight, for instance, there were the Move the Monument people and there were the Preserve Talbot County history people (outside the courthouse). And everyone was courteous to everyone else…,” she said. “The Move the Monument people were handing out snacks to everyone. And I guess it sort of reminded me of, if you read the history of Culp’s Hill, the Battle of Culps Hill, where we had Talbot Countians both on the Confederate side and on the Union side fighting each other. But when the battle was over, they helped each other.
“The battle here is not quite over but I would hope that until it is, and even when it is, that each side will respect the other and show them that grace that I observed tonight and I have observed over the last few years,” Mielke said.
Others had harsher words for Frank Divilio, Pete Lesher, and Corey Pack, the three councilmen who voted for the resolution to relocate the statue.
Michelle Ewing called Divilio “duplicitous” and said “… thanks to you and Corey (Pack) and Pete (Lesher) our county will forever be divided.”
Clive Ewing agreed.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in how the council went about advancing the Talbot Boys resolution to a vote tonight,” he said. “Transparent government is the best government and you have left a lot to be desired.
“This action does nothing to advance understanding and unity in this county,” Ewing said.
Shari Wilcoxon said “… this is a very sad day for Talbot County to be swept up in the same horrific Marxist idealism that’s going on throughout our country…. It’s really a frightening step, it’s frightening what’s going on in our country, and it’s a sad day that’s going on here in Talbot County….”
Speakers who supported efforts to move the statue from the courthouse grounds said it took courage to make that decision.
“I saw an awful lot of courage here tonight, tremendous courage, because it takes a great deal of courage to have a change of heart,” Keith Watts said.
“You talked about respect, and being respectful. And I think it’s so important for the community, whatever the outcome was tonight, to continue to respect each other. Because we all live together,” he said. “There are certainly individual acts of courage on each and every single person’s part that’s here tonight, both in the audience and on that dais…. I think that you can take some solace in the fact that you did what you felt was in your hearts.
“Whether I agree with that, or not, it doesn’t matter so much as to continue to look at each other, listen to each other, and respect each other because we all live together,” Watts said. “And I think we all, in our own ways, have Talbot County’s best interests at heart. Always…. So thank you for your candor. Thank you for your courage. Thank you for bringing us to this point. And thank you for leading us from here because now it’s the way forward.”
Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County NAACP, thanked Divilio.
“Thank you for your courage tonight. I appreciate that. I appreciate you and your diligence in trying to find a peaceful solution to this issue,” he said. “I know tonight was difficult. And I’m pretty sure the days ahead will be difficult. But that’s leadership.
“One of the quotes that I leave this council with is one from Winston Churchill: ‘Mountaintops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them.'”
The NAACP and others had filed a federal lawsuit to require the county to move the Confederate monument from its position on the lawn just outside the Talbot County Court House.
Divilio said he submitted the resolution to relocate the statue to the Cross Keys battlefield to put an end to the divisive debate and to ensure the monument is preserved.
“If the Talbot boys make this move, they will help tell the story of the Civil War and how communities and families were divided, unfortunately, much as we are today,” he said. “Cross Keys battlefield is an appropriate new home for the Talbot boys where the monument will be cared for with respect, and be part of the teaching history for generations to come.
“Throughout this process, it has been very important to me that the Talbot Boys be treated with respect,” Divilio said. “And if the decision was made to move it, there needed to be a new location identified that would be able to keep it and maintain it for the long term. Unfortunately, no such option existed locally and I feared the situation would evolve much like it has in other parts of this country and the courthouse grounds would be vandalized and the Talbot Boys would be destroyed.
He said the simple answer to questions about why the statue is being moved out of the county is that “no one wanted it. No one wanted to subject themselves, their business, their organization, or their government to the backlash from agreeing to accept the Talbot Boys on their property.
“The Talbot Boys issue has divided our community for too long and has sidelined many other important things the county council and county government needs to address,” Divilio said. “I believe that moving the Talbot Boys to a historically appropriate place of respect, and allowing our community to move forward is the best for Talbot County. It is time to bring this resolution to a close so we can shift our focus to rebuilding our relationships and coming together to build a 21st century Talbot County.”
Council Vice President Pete Lesher commended Divilio, who has previously voted to leave the monument at its current location, for his “diligence in identifying and securing an honorable and appropriate destination for the statute.
“For generations, the voices of Talbot County’s African-Americans were unheard and ignored too often,” Lesher said. “Now that they have allies across racial, ethnic and economic divides, we are beginning to hear them and give them new respect. It is clear that the presence of this statute on the courthouse square would continue to rankle. Tonight’s move is simply overdue.
“The monument is a misrepresentation of history, suggesting an inflated number of Talbot County residents fought against Maryland and against the United States in America’s new birth of freedom,” he said. “In fact, Talbot County voted overwhelmingly for pro-Union candidates to a potential secession convention that never met. This monument is simply not good history.
“And this statue shows a young Confederate soldier, not in surrender, but going off to war in his fresh uniform to fight a lost cause,” Lesher said. “In this Excelsior portrayal from Longfellow’s poem, he is ennobled, heroically prepared to give his life to preserve a way of life that was economically sustained through enslaved black labor.
Councilman Corey Pack agreed and noted the primary goal of the Confederacy was to maintain slavery.
“(W)e may not know individually why those men went to fight, perhaps because their friend down the street was going off to fight, perhaps because they were bored, perhaps because they truly believed in what the Confederacy stood far, we don’t know. But what we do know is the overarching umbrella that the Confederacy stood for,” he said. “And that was most notably the enslavement of black people. And no matter how you cut it, had the Confederacy won, that would have continued on. Written within the documents of their articles of confederacy is for the continuation of slavery….
“So we know what the Confederacy stood for. And these statues that came about at the turn of the 20th century was basically to glamorize that lost cause movement of the Confederacy, that although they fought and lost, they fought for a noble cause.
“I believe this is the right thing for Talbot County, I really do, I really do,” Pack said. “I believe that this is not erasing history, it’s just relocating a statue to another location where it can live out its days and if persons want to go travel and see it at that location, they’re free to do so. But to have the statute out front, that glamorizes a time and a period with not everybody who’s free, to have a statue out front, which still has the the draped flag of the Confederacy, to have that CSA on the buckle of that young man. And knowing what that stood for is not appropriate for this date and time.”
Councilwoman Laura Price had a competing resolution drafted calling for a Union statue and the names of Union soldiers to be added to the existing Confederate monument. But she said Tuesday night that she would not be offering that administrative resolution because she felt the public should be allowed to comment at a public hearing.
“Moving it out of the county is one thing, moving it out of the state is quite another,” she said. “And as I stated, the reason that I’m delaying my resolution is because it does deserve public feedback. And there are some people out there who maybe are supportive of moving the monument, but don’t support moving it to Virginia.
“I would ask you to have a proper public hearing and let people talk about (it). You’re the only one who looked and you alone are deciding to move to Virginia,” Price said. “And I think there’s a lot of people who would be supportive of moving the monument that don’t want it to go to Virginia. So I do have a problem with that….
“I’d much rather have compromise and try to … figure out if we can do another solution. But if this is going to be the solution that passes here, the people, all of the people deserve a proper public hearing…,” she said. “I believe that this is wrong. And it’s not anything to do with my opinion, whether it should stay as is, become a unity, or go, has nothing to do with that, it has everything to do with process.”
Council President Chuck Callahan noted Divilio had had a change of heart on the issue but “I can tell you I’m not there.
“I feel it’s a mistake. I think it’s a mistake, moving it from here,” he said. “I’ve always been very open minded. And I’ve told everybody I’ve been open-minded through the years, you know, could we find a place, could we find a place? I’ve always really been open minded to listen to everybody….
“You know, if we were going to move it, I would love to have the opportunity for the public to have input on where we’re going to put it,” Callahan said. “I really do, I think it’s important…. So I really feel like … if we were to make that decision that this is gonna move, it would have been really great if the public had the opinion on where it was going to be moved at.”
Pack took some issue with Callahan’s remarks about giving the public an opportunity to speak.
“I just want to say for clarification, you know, we’ve had opportunities to engage the public….,” Pack said, referring to requests from the Talbot NAACP and religious leaders to meet with the council to discuss the issue. “We’ve had opportunities to engage the public. We’ve turned down invitations to engage the public.
“Our attorneys from Baltimore City, high-powered attorneys that come consult this council, (said we should) engage the public, and we chose not to,” he said. “So you can’t say to this man now you’re (not) going about (it) the right way because you didn’t include the public. We had opportunities to do so. And the majority chose not to. That’s not fair to now say to him, he hasn’t engaged in the public. When you had opportunity to do it, we did not.
“That’s your opinion,” Callahan replied.
“That’s a fact,” Pack said.
It was unclear whether the approved resolution only provides for the relocation of the statue of the young Confederate soldier atop the base or to the entirety of the monument including statue and base. The resolution as drafted and approved Tuesday night solely refers to the Talbot boys “statue,” and never mentions the word “monument,” but council members spoke about the “monument” when discussing the resolution. The dedication “To the Talbot Boys” appears on the base.
In a Wednesday afternoon email, Divilio indicated his intention with the resolution was to relocate “all of it.”
The draft administrative resolution may be read in its entirety below.DRAFT_Administrative_Resolution_-_Relocation_of_Talbot_Boys_Statue_-_September_2021
Key moments from Tuesday night’s discussion may be seen in the below video, which is about eight minutes long. A full video of the county council meeting may be viewed and/or downloaded at https://talbotcountymd.gov/About-Us/County_Council/council-meeting-video.