Hogan calls for Taney statue at Maryland State House to be removed

Gov. Larry Hogan joined a groundswell of opposition to Confederate-linked monuments on Tuesday, calling for the removal of a statue of the Supreme Court chief justice who wrote an 1857 decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to black Americans.

The statue of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, a Calvert County native and author of the infamous Dred Scott decision, has stood on the front lawn of the State House in Annapolis since 1872, withstanding multiple efforts to remove it.

Hogan’s announcement probably ensures that the bronze likeness of Taney will be removed from its prominent perch in the state capital. Hogan acknowledged the statue may send an inappropriate message in a country that continues to struggle over civil rights and equality.

“While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan said in a statement. “With that in mind, I believe removing the Justice Roger B. Taney Statue from the State House grounds is the right thing to do, and we will ask the State House trust to take that action immediately.”

Hogan previously supported keeping Taney in his spot at the State House, and in 2015 called removing monuments to the Confederacy “political correctness run amok.” Hogan did recall more than 100 Sons of Confederate Veterans commemorative license plates that year.

A spokesman said Tuesday that the governor was moved to change his mind following the weekend events in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists held demonstrations and one woman was killed and others injured when a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protesters.

“The governor was disgusted by the events in Charlottesville and rightly concluded that these memorials had become a rallying point for white supremacists and bigots,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “Their presence on prominent public land was sending a confusing and ultimately inappropriate message.”

Following the violent and disturbing events in Charlottesville, officials around the country have re-examined their statues and memorials to Confederate figures.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has pledged to take down four Confederate-inspired monuments in the city, possibly moving them to Confederate cemeteries elsewhere in the state. The memorials include the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway, the Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell and a Taney monument on Mount Vernon Place.

Under former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a commission recommended getting rid of the Taney and Lee-Jackson statues, while adding signs with more historic context to the others.

In Frederick, city officials removed a bust of Taney and another of Thomas Johnson, the state’s first governor and a slaveowner, in March. The busts had flanked the entrance of Frederick’s City Hall.

In a news conference at Trump Tower in New York, President Donald J. Trump defended the cause of those who gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue there honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy. He suggested that removing such monuments could lead to others coming down, too.

“Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington lose his status?” Trump said. “What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? Do you like him? ... You’re changing history. You’re changing culture.”

In Maryland, it’s up to the State House Trust to officially decide the fate of the Taney statue in Annapolis. It wasn’t clear Tuesday when the group would next meet or how long it could take to move the statue.

The Trust oversees the historic building and its grounds and has four members: Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who is Hogan’s appointee; House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and Charles L. Edson, who is chairman of the Maryland Historical Trust’s board of trustees.

Busch offered his support on Monday for getting rid of the Taney statue, while Miller said he preferred to keep the statue but would not block its removal if that was the governor’s wish.

Busch and Miller previously supported keeping Taney in his place, and pointed to the installation of a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court justice, in a visible and heavily trafficked spot on Lawyers Mall on the other side of the State House, as a counter to the Taney statue.

Busch, Miller and Hogan have also offered support for installing statues of abolitionist leaders Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass inside the State House.

Edson could not be reached for comment.

Busch said once the statue is removed, Hogan should set up a group to figure out what to do with it, such as destroy it or display it elsewhere.

“I’m not an expert on where the statue should go, but I don’t believe when you have a State House as historic as ours, you have Taney on the front grounds,” said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.

Even when lawmakers considered spending money on the Taney statue in 1867, there was disagreement. Some preferred the statue, sculpted by artist William Henry Rinehart, to be put in Frederick, where Taney was buried, instead of Annapolis.

Various lawmakers over the years have sponsored legislation that would have required the statue to be moved or destroyed, but the bills have never advanced in the General Assembly. The state’s Department of Legislative Services estimated last year that it would cost $77,000 to remove the statue and another $5,000 per year to store it.

Hogan’s office said the administration would find the money necessary for the statue’s removal.

An online petition asking the state to remove the Taney statue gathered nearly 850 signatures by the time Hogan announced his support for the removal.

Patrick Murray, a spokesman for the group Our Maryland, which launched the petition on Sunday, said Hogan was slow to act.

“Speaker Busch was out front on this issue, while Governor Hogan led from behind,” said Murray, who used to be director of the Maryland Democratic Party. “The governor should be embarrassed that it took two days and collective action by 848 Marylanders to get him to do the right thing.”

The likelihood that the Taney statue would be moved spurred mixed emotions in Kate Taney Billingsley, a New York woman who is descended from the chief justice.

Billingsley and her family have worked over the years to understand their ancestor’s actions and connected with Dred Scott’s descendants in an effort toward reconciliation.

Representatives from both families visited the Taney statue at the State House together in March to promote a plan to place a statue of Scott next to Taney. Over the weekend, as demonstrations took place in Charlottesville, Billingsley took part in a panel discussion in St. Louis with Scott’s descendants.

Billingsley said she wasn’t surprised by the momentum to remove the Taney statue and said she understood the reasons behind it. She said she won’t oppose the statue’s removal.

“If the community wants it gone, then it should be gone,” Billingsley said.

Still, she worries the focus on statues may distract from the broader work that Americans need to do to improve race relations and justice. Besides statues, there are roads, bridges, schools and even towns named for Taney and other figures from the Civil War era. It may be politically expedient to remove statues and symbols, Billingsley said, but much more difficult work needs to be done.

“You can tear down every single statue, but at the end of the day, the system is still broken,” she said.

Washington Bureau reporter Noah Bierman, Baltimore Sun research librarian Paul McCardell and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Chase Cook contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
72°