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Stanley's Confederate past ignites Laurel library naming rift

The controversy surrounding the renaming of the Laurel library has taken a turn as the purported Confederate past of Charles H. Stanley, for whom the library is named, has put some city residents in conflict with a campaign to keep Stanley's name on the building.

City resident Maureen Johnson said because Stanley, who lived from 1842-1913 and served as Laurel's second mayor from 1891-93, fought for the Confederacy as a 19-year-old, his name should not be on the building.

"I don't want the name on there because of what it represents," said Johnson, who is African American. "If you are going to keep his name on the library, you might as well put a Confederate flag next to it."

Johnson and fellow advocate Sidney Moore, who is white, said the issue is compounded by the fact that the library is located near the city's historically African-American Grove neighborhood and adjacent to Emancipation Community Park.

"I don't think the people currently in favor of retaining the 'Stanley Memorial' name for the new library understand the potentially explosive significance of the juxtaposition of a public building named for a man who supported the institution of slavery and Laurel's Emancipation Park, where each year African Americans remember, honor, and celebrate the freedom given to them on Emancipation Day," Moore wrote in an email.

Johnson and Moore, who are the most vocal among a handful of residents leading the charge against the name, are the latest to weigh in on the name of the library, which has been the topic of letter exchanges between Mayor Craig Moe and Prince George's County Library System Board of Trustee President Sylvia Bolivar.

The controversy began when the library board decided to remove Stanley's name from the building when the library reopens after a $14 million renovation and expansion project. The decision was made to keep the Laurel branch consistent with other branches in the system, which are not named after people. In place of the name, library officials said the system plans to dedicate a space in the lobby to Stanley.

After learning the name "Stanley Memorial Library" would be dropped, a coalition of city residents, which included Moe and Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Lindsey Baker, began urging the library board to reconsider the name change, citing contributions Stanley made to the city. In addition to being Laurel's mayor, Stanley was a state delegate, state comptroller and founded Citizens National Bank, serving as president from 1880 to 1913.

"I knew the land [the library was built on] was donated [by the Stanley family], so I thought it was important to keep the name," said Moe, who is white.

Moe said he was aware of the concerns, but that his support is "not really about that.

"My position is, I thought it was important that the name stay. Others have concerns about him being in the Confederate army, and I understand that. I think there are a lot of things that occurred years ago that we're not proud of. Hopefully we've gotten past some of that, but it's always good to reflect on those types of things," Moe said. "It's important to have open dialogue, and ultimately the decision is going to be made by the trustees of the library."

Laurel City Council President Fred Smalls said he agrees with Moe that Stanley's contribution to Laurel, and the library, should be honored.

"Because he contributed the land, some way of commemorating that should remain part of the library," said Smalls, who is African-American. "I'm not ready to say just because he may have been a Confederate soldier that he shouldn't be."

Smalls said he's also heard conflicting information about Stanley, and wants to do his own research into Stanley's past.

"It's well worth being discussed," he said. "Until I see anything concrete that he was a slave owner and supported slavery, I'm keeping an open mind."

In a letter to the editor published Feb. 27 in the Laurel Leader, Baker wrote that the Laurel Historical Society supported keeping the name because the deed transferring the land for the library specifically stated the library be known as the "Stanley Memorial Library."

However, because of revelations on Stanley's Confederate past, Baker has said the society might change its stance.

"I think we will probably remain neutral," Baker said.

Baker said the decision is up to the society's Board of Trustees, which is not scheduled to meet again until March 20. Baker said a special meeting to address the society's stance on the issue could be called before the March 20 meeting.

Both Baker and Smalls, who also serves on the Board of Trustees of the historical society, said, from the society's perspective, it is positive to see so many people interested in Laurel's history.

"I'm very excited we're talking about this," Baker wrote on the society's Facebook page. "We work very hard at the [historical society] to get people to think about history and how important it is to think about how it affects our lives today."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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