Let’s not make this more complicated than it is. We must recognize today’s reality. The statue is a racist affront not only to Black people but to all who are offended by one race demeaning or undermining another.
In recent months, much has been written about the history of the memorial. I read arguments for maintaining and removing the statue. I read that the original plan was for a second memorial, honoring union soldiers, but it was never built. I also read that the union government treated Maryland poorly in the years up to the Civil War and that there may have been causes other than defending slavery to rebel against.
I’m not going to dispute history offered in support of maintaining the memorial or attempt to compare it to the information that supports the idea that the memorial was motivated, at least in large part, to remind African Americans of their place in Talbot County.
The history on both sides doesn’t matter. Everyone involved in building the memorial is dead. More importantly, it doesn’t matter if those who believe the history of the memorial is not one reflecting Jim Crow racism are right. The reality is that the statue, regardless of its history, has come to represent white supremacy today. Because it does, it is today a racist symbol regardless of the intentions of those who arranged for it to be placed on the Talbot Courthouse lawn.
In saying this, I am not proposing to “not preserve” Talbot County’s history. I am proposing that we not add to the shameful history of slavery in this county by creating new history that continues injustice against people of color. Instead, let’s ensure that the history we make now reflects today’s values of inclusiveness and racial justice.
Maryland’s history—both the good and the bad—will continue. One hundred years from now anyone who wants to read about the state’s role in slavery, the Civil War, and how the Talbot Boys were memorialized will be able to do so. None of that requires keeping a symbol of racism in front of the Courthouse.
Talbot County does not need to study or master the history of the Talbot Boys to do the right thing. All the town council needs to do is listen to Talbot County citizens who are offended by the statue. Those conversations show that for some the statue is a forceful reminder that they are somehow not full citizens.
That is enough for me. Removing the statue signals the county’s commitment to justice for all.
I do not want to be part of a future Talbot County history that records that in the 21st century, when dozens of other American towns and cities chose to remove or relocate symbols of the confederate rebellion and slavery, Talbot County said no. I don’t want to have to explain to my grandchild why I let an injustice continue when the issues were so simple.
So, there you have it. At least for me, I have distilled the controversy over the memorial to one that weighs history against today’s reality. Do we really want to be party to creating new history that future generations will and should be ashamed of?
What should be done with the Talbot Boys memorial once it is removed from the courthouse grounds? If I were asked, I would answer, “move it somewhere where it loses its power to intimidate and insult people–somewhere where it’s less likely to inspire a misguided youth into believing that the Lost Cause was noble or that slavery was somehow right.”
Can we please make this decision based on what is right today? A decision to remove the statute is a simple one if you think about it.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.