If you attended school in Maryland, be it in Owings Mills, Glyndon, Reisterstown or in the city, chances are you were taught the first verse of the National Anthem and also a stanza of “Maryland My Maryland.”
The rest of Francis Scott Key’s poetic words to the National Anthem are thrilling and in many ways better than the initial stanza. The same cannot be said of the nine-verse screed written by James Ryder Randall that is, unfortunately, Maryland’s official state song.
Randall’s words are an embarrassment, a blood-curdling call for Maryland to join the Confederacy and rip the United States apart. He refers to Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant, a despot and a “Vandal.” He refers to Union soldiers as “northern scum.” He uses the Latin phrase for “thus always to tyrants,” foreshadowing Lincoln’s assassination by Marylander John Wilkes Booth, who used the exact same Latin phase in announcing his dastardly deed to the audience at Ford’s Theatre in Washington.
Once you read the entire poem, it’s clear it never should have been adopted as the state song. Twenty years ago, Virginia retired its far better-known state song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” because of its offensive language.
It’s a near certainty the 2018 Maryland General Assembly will finally deep-six Randall’s warlike language for the same reason.
The University of Maryland’s College Park marching band decided not to play “Maryland, My Maryland” anymore. That takes matters a step too far.
The music itself is perfectly fitting — it’s the same tune as the joyous Christmas song, “O Tannenbaum.” It’s the identical tune of state songs in Florida, Michigan and Iowa.
Ditching Randall’s martial poem is not a matter of being “politically correct” but rather correcting a mistake of history.
The Maryland-born poet wrote his nine stanzas while living in Augusta, Ga., shortly after the first blood was spilled in the Civil War on the streets of Baltimore. One of the citizens killed that day in 1861 was Randall’s friend. In anguish, he dashed off a poem written to incite rebellion among Marylanders.
Efforts to remove Randall’s offensive words have foundered in Annapolis. Next year, though, should be different.
State legislators have gotten hung up on how to replace the tainted lyrics. Virginia neatly solved that problem by doing away with a state song.
Others have suggested an alternative set of lyrics written in 1894 by a well-known poet, John T. White, a Cumberland high school principal.
His language highlights Maryland’s physical beauty and the goodness of its people — though White focuses mainly on the mountain scenes of Western Maryland.
Senate President Mike Miller managed to pass a bill last year that would have kept Randall’s best-known and most inoffensive stanza while adding White’s aesthetic poetry. However, the bill never received a vote in the House of Delegates.
A year earlier, an advisory panel recommended Randall’s words be removed or revised. Others have suggested that the governor hold a contest to pick the best and most appropriate lyrics for the “O Tannenbaum” tune.
Just as offensive statues of Civil War Confederates or public figures favoring white supremacy do not deserve veneration in public places, Randall’s poetic call to destroy the nation through violent rebellion is undeserving of a place of honor as Maryland’s state song.
So if you have a poem in mind that might fit the bill, why not send it along to your state legislator? Selecting the words for the state’s anthem could be just around the corner.
Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.