When I learned that Talbot Council member Frank Divilio premised his vote against removal of the Talbot Boys statue from the grounds of the courthouse on the need for more time to study the issue, I was, frankly, gobsmacked. The explanation is ridiculous. His vote, notwithstanding his support for the addition of another statue that would depict both Union and Confederate soldiers, was a vote to keep a symbol of White Supremacy, offensive to many Talbot County residents, right where it is. Apparently, the many arguments for immediate removal did not persuade him and the other two Council members who joined him.
At first, I found the delay in removing the statue sad. Justice delayed is justice denied. As long as the Talbot Boys stand vigil in front of the courthouse, how can a black person expect justice inside? Are the county’s judges comfortable with what many citizens, and, more importantly, people in the criminal justice system—arrestees—see as a racist symbol remaining? Where are their voices?
Upon reflection, I am coming to see the light. The statue prompts us to learn history. It teaches us that boys from the county fought for the Confederacy and the right to own slaves. Not the type of history to celebrate, but maybe worthwhile to know even if you don’t need a statue in front of a courthouse to teach it.
Of course, there’s more. The statue represents something beyond just the Civil War. Something more recent. If you dig a little deeper and look into how the statue made its way onto the courthouse grounds, you learn that in 1916 in our county, as well as hundreds of other places, white people wanted to commemorate “The Lost Cause” and celebrate the men who fought for it. What was the benefit in this? Was it to remind African Americans that while the war was over, sympathy for what it stood for was not?
Do you need evidence for the motivation behind the erection of the statue? Read the writings of the racist lawyer, Joseph B. Seth, a leader in the effort to erect the statue. He was unambiguous in revealing his motivation. Seth viewed slavery as a fine institution. In his book, written with his wife, Mary W. Seth, Recollections of a Long Life on the Eastern Shore, Seth writes:
The bulk of the slaves were devoted to their masters and their families, taking great interest in everything concerning them. They considered themselves part of the family and their devotion was so great that they would run any risk to protect them. They considered themselves a part of the family and their devotion was so great that they would run any risk to protect them. The families were equally devoted to the slaves and with the whole Southland had the tenderest affection for the faithful old Mammies and Uncles.
Please note that Council member Peter Lesher, who voted to remove the statue, is aware of Mr. Seth’s contribution to our history. Are the three members of the Council who want the statute to remain? If so, how can they sleep at night?
The history lessons offered by the Talbot Boys do not end in the 20th century. Unfortunately, it is offering new ones, one’s that may haunt future generations of Talbot County residents. Here are two:
As late as 2020, the Council, through its inaction, maintained a symbol of White Supremacy in front of the County Courthouse despite the pleas of citizens to remove it. The message inherent in the Council’s vote is “Black Lives Do Not Matter.”
In 2020, an elected Council member was too cowardly to just admit he wanted to keep the statue and instead claimed more time was needed to study the issue. If he is successful in keeping the statue in place, it teaches the unwholesome lesson that delay can often lead to success. Deferring a vote clearly reflects the hope that “things will calm down” in a few months and that the fight over removing the statue will be over.
Hopefully, outcries and protests over this symbol of racism will continue and force the Council to reconsider their shameful vote. If that doesn’t happen, maybe the Council should allow various groups to erect a few new statues on the Courthouse lawn that might have educational value like the Talbot Boys. How about a statue of Richard Nixon? He signed the bill creating the Environmental Protection Agency, which has done a lot to clean up the bay. How about a statue of Trump (to be erected after he leaves office)? This one could teach children the price of incompetence in responding to a pandemic. If large enough, the pedestal for the statue could include the names of Talbot County residents who died from the pandemic. Given that the worst may be ahead of us, it may have to be a big pedestal. The lesson from the Trump statue would be: Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.
Thank you, Talbot Boys. You got me thinking. Your final lesson to me is how important my vote is. I do not need more time to decide who needs to be voted off the Council.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant. For more than 30 years, he advised clients on federal education and social service policy.