Is Md.'s state song the next Confederate relic to go?

The Maryland General Assembly will consider two bills this year that propose changing our state song,"Maryland, My Maryland,” which has long been criticized for its Confederate sympathies.

The legislature has been here before, but this may finally be the year members act, given the recent removal of Confederate-linked statues in various communities throughout Maryland.

Right now the two bills are in the House of Delegates. I am certain that both will move over to the Senate — and that one is clearly superior (and not just because it’s based on my suggestion).

House Bill 508 provides for the repeal of the current song, followed by a convoluted process to pick an entirely new state song. The bill calls for the creation of an advisory panel, which would receive and review submissions of lyrics, melodies and other suggestions for a new state song, and hold at least three public hearings on the matter before making recommendations to the governor and legislature by Dec. 1. (This would be the second such state song panel created by the General Assembly. The first one was created in 2015.)

House Bill 608 would strip away all of the disgusting and offensive lyrics from the current state song (among them decrying the “Northern scum” and referring to Abraham Lincoln as a “despot”), keeping the third stanza, which most people would consider inoffensive. It is the stanza that is sung at the Preakness Stakes each year. The only difference is that the line "Remember Howard's warlike thrust" would be replaced with the line "May Tubman's name remain august" — a reference to abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

The revisions in HB608 follow suggestions that the first advisory panel made, including to make the third stanza the official state song, and that the song honor Tubman in the lyrics.

The current third stanza also honors Charles Carroll of Carrollton and John Edgar Howard. Both men are certainly Maryland heroes, but they also both owned enslaved African-Americans. So, it would be fitting that we keep Carroll, who signed the Declaration of Independence, and cut Howard in favor of Tubman, a woman who helped fulfill the ideas that are expressed in the Declaration of Independence. It creates an interesting juxtaposition, and it is accurate history (to answer those who say we are trying to change history when we revise the song).

The state song under HB608 would therefore be:

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,

Maryland, my Maryland!

Thy beaming sword shall never rust,

Maryland, my Maryland!

Remember Carroll’s sacred trust,

May Tubman's name remain august,

And all thy slumberers with the just,

Maryland, my Maryland!

The revised state song would be more like a college pep rally fight song then the current dirge for the lost cause. And the new line about Harriet Tubman continues the tone and the rhyming scheme of the current "Maryland, My Maryland”; the change is seamless.

The song contest, on the other hand, is a disaster waiting to happen. Think about the medical marijuana debacle and multiply it by however many people submit lyrics, melodies or suggestions to the advisory panel. Then throw in the panel’s elected official requirement, as the bill calls for, and consider the pressure they will be under from constituents and others; you can imagine what we will be facing. Virginia had a state song contest several years ago, and it was a mess.

The contest bill will be costly, too. HB508 calls for the Maryland State Archives to provide the staff to assist the panel, and the bill calls for the panel to be reimbursed for expenses incurred during the marathon. Can you imagine the state spending money reimbursing panel members for expenses they incur while listening to contest entries when Baltimore City is fighting for the funding to help city school students and community development? Outrageous!

HB608 is essentially free. It will cost the state not one single penny to implement, other than perhaps song reprinting efforts.

This is the choice the General Assembly has to make this year. It’s an obvious one.

Sean Tully (jptjptjpt@yahoo.com; Twitter: @SeanJohnTully) is a musician and member of the Baltimore Songwriters Association and the Baltimore Guitarist Group.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
45°