In the wake of a violent white supremacist rally in neighboring Virginia, House Speaker Michael E. Busch said Monday it’s time to take down Maryland’s most prominent Confederate-era monument.
Busch said the statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney — author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to black people — should no longer preside over the front lawn of the Maryland State House.
“It certainly doesn’t belong there,” said Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat.
“It's the appropriate time to remove it,” he said. Leaving it in place after white supremacists openly rallied “would send a message that we condone what took place, that slavery is alright.”
Though activists and some lawmakers have long been calling to remove the statue or otherwise diminish its stature, Busch is the most powerful political leader to outright advocate for its removal.
He is also one of four members of the Maryland State House Trust, which oversees the use of the property and would need to vote on taking the statue down.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller are also on the board. Miller, who represents parts of Calvert and Prince George’s counties, said Monday he would prefer the statue remain but wouldn’t block its removal if Hogan decided that was what should be done.
“While there is a flawed history surrounding Justice Roger Taney, he was not a Confederate figure,” Miller said in a statement. “As a student of history, I personally believe there is greater value in educating and providing context to Justice Taney and the inflammatory language of the Dred Scott decision rather than removing his statue from the State House grounds. …
“At the same time, however, the Governor is the leader of our State, and the Chair of the State House Trust. Should he support removal, I will not stand in the way of his decision.”
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, called the State House “a living, working museum” and said the governor was willing to discuss changes to monuments with Busch and Miller.
“While we must be mindful not to scrub historical references that are difficult to confront, the use of these monuments as a rallying point for bigots and racists means that we must make the distinction between recognizing our history and glorifying dark chapters in our nation’s past,” Chasse said.
The fourth member of the Maryland State House Trust is Charles L. Edson, chair of the Maryland Historical Trust’s board of trustees.
“There’s no precedent for anything like this,” said Elaine Bachmann, a State House historian and acting secretary of the Maryland State House Trust.
Bachmann said no major installation has ever been taken off the State House grounds.
The towering statue of Taney was erected on the east lawn in 1872 and has been controversial since then.
In response, officials have installed monuments over time that add more context to Taney’s statue.
In the 1990s, officials installed a statue of Maryland-born Thurgood Marshall, who argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court and went on to become the court’s first African-American justice, near the State House’s western entrance. Plaques also have been installed at the base of Taney statue to provide historical context about the divisiveness of the Dred Scott decision.
Last year, a descendant of Taney met with Scott’s descendants in front of the Maryland statue to publicly issue an apology for the decision. The families said they support adding a statue of Scott rather than taking down Taney.
Taney’s likeness has been removed elsewhere in Maryland. In March, his bust was removed from Frederick City Hall.
Other jurisdictions also are making plans to move Confederate-era monuments.
In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh pledged Monday to tear down four such statues: the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue, the Confederate Women’s Monument on West University Parkway, the Roger B. Taney Monument on Mount Vernon Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell. Pugh wants to move the monuments; members of the City Council have proposed destroying them.
Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman and members of the County Council said Monday they are discussing removing a Confederate monument that stands outside the county’s Circuit Court building in Ellicott City. The monument was originally dedicated in 1948 and bears the names of 92 Confederate soldiers from Howard County.
Council Chairman Jon Weinstein said officials are not discussing destroying the monument, but finding a more “appropriate” place for it.
“We need to put that sort of history into context and understand it but not revere it,” Weinstein said. “It is a monument, it is a representation of the fact that people in Ellicott City served in the Confederate army. We don’t have to be proud of that fact, but it is a fact.”
Kittleman said the county will need to locate and speak with the owners of the monument, as well as the community, before making a decision about its fate. He said no timeline has been set for that process.
Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties do not have Confederate monuments on county public grounds, according to a Maryland Historical Trust inventory of state military monuments.
In Baltimore County, a park property in the Towson area was formerly known as Robert E. Lee Park, but in 2015 County Executive Kevin Kamenetz ordered it to be renamed. It is now identified as Lake Roland.
Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Kate Magill contributed to this article.