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Taney statue is moved from outside Frederick City Hall

Roger Taney statue moved from outside Frederick City Hall Saturday

A bust of former U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney will no longer greet visitors outside Frederick's City Hall.

The bronze likeness of the Maryland native who wrote the watershed Dred Scott decision affirming slavery160 years ago, was gently loosened Saturday morning by a crew of three men and loaded by a small crane into the back of an old Chevy pickup truck.

A small crowd that gathered to watch the removal applauded as the truck pulled away.

"To me, this was an embarrassment," said Frederick Alderman Donna Kuzemchak, a Democrat who has been trying to have Taney's statue removed since she was elected in 1997. The aldermen voted last year to have the statue removed.

Since 1932, the bust of Taney, along with that of Thomas Johnson, the first governor of Maryland, flanked the entrance of the historic City Hall building, which once served as a courthouse and sits just a block from bustling Market Street and its trendy shops and restaurants.

Both busts will be relocated to Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, where Johnson is buried.

"I think this city put elected officials in place who saw the importance of getting rid of this," Kuzemchak said. Frederick's population has grown by about 20,000 since she was first elected, she said, and has become more diverse.

Taney's removal is the latest instance of local leaders reconsidering monuments to historical figures who helped shape some of the country's darkest history.

The General Assembly is considering a bill that would remove another statue of Taney that has sat on the grounds of the State House in Annapolis since 1872. Earlier this month, descendents of Taney and Scott met at the site to reconcile.

In Baltimore, a commission convened to consider removing several of the city's Confederate monuments voted to remove a Taney statue at Mount Vernon Place. But former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the expense of removing the monument precluded immediate action by the city.

Frederick officials said it will cost the about $5,000 to remove Johnson's and Taney's busts, along with a placard explaining the history of the Dred Scott case that was added about 10 years ago in an attempt at a compromise.

Taney wrote the 1857 majority opinion that ruled Scott, a Missouri slave who had traveled with his master into free territory and said he should retain his freedom, must remain enslaved. Taney wrote that the country's founders saw blacks as "beings of an inferior order," and that they "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Before the statue was lifted, Lorraine Hoffman, who lives just outside the city, posed as if she were moving the statue, which rested unevenly on wooden shims. She talked about making the photo her Facebook profile picture.

"I don't think he deserves to be in front of City Hall," she said.

Mayor Randy McClement said there were equal amounts of support for and opposition to the statues, though only those who backed removing the busts, along with representatives of the news media, were outside City Hall on Saturday morning.

Many supporters of the statues, McClement said, felt that moving them would be an attempt to deny history.

"It's historic in its own right. It was done by a fine artist. It was part of the heritage of the people of Frederick County," said Theresa Mathias Michel, a lifelong Frederick resident who was opposed to removing the statue.

She and two others filed a petition last year, asking for a judge to review the decision, but it was later withdrawn.

The group chose not to continue to fight the decision after the opposition "wanted to make some racial capital out of it. We had no wish to get into that business," Mathias Michel said.

McClement said there are no plans now to replace the busts.

The removal of the bust of Johnson, a slave owner who also served on the U.S. Supreme Court, did not inspire opposition. But McClement said "it didn't look quite right" and that keeping just one bust marred the symmetry outside City Hall.

McClement said the city had offers from private buyers for the busts, but that city officials wanted to keep the busts where they would remain on public display, and decided a good site was Mount Olivet.

The cemetery board recently voted to display the new additions near the Francis Scott Key Memorial Monument, which draws many tourists, said Ronald Pearcey, the cemetery superintendent.

Both busts would remain together, he said, as they were outside City Hall.

"They've been together for so many years," Pearcey said.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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