It has been 3½ years since Baltimore officials removed four Confederate monuments from public land.
Since then, a statue to Roger Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote a famous 1857 decision that upheld slavery, was taken from the State House grounds in Annapolis, a plaque honoring a Confederate general was removed from the courthouse grounds in Wicomico County, and a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee was moved from the U.S. Capitol.
A consensus has emerged in Maryland and beyond that it’s unacceptable for government entities to keep monuments to Confederate figures on display, as to many Americans they evoke forms of unthinkable injustice. But in the seat of one Eastern Shore county, just such a memorial remains.
The “Talbot Boys” monument, a bronze sculpture on a granite base dedicated to the memory of county residents who fought for the South during the Civil War, stands yards from the entrance to the county courthouse in Easton, and a controversy over it continues to rage.
Its chief feature, a life-size representation of a young soldier holding a Confederate States of America flag, stands on a plinth bearing the names of 84 men from Talbot who sided against the Union in the Civil War. “To the Talbot Boys: 1861 - 1865, C.S.A.” it reads.
It’s believed to be the only statue to Confederates still standing on public ground in Maryland.
Critics have long called its presence a statement of support for white supremacy and a “slap in the face” to African Americans, particularly given its location outside a hall of justice. Supporters see it as a treasured memorial and a reflection of the county’s history.
Even as the Talbot County Council continues narrowly to support the memorial — most recently, the body voted 3-2 in August to keep it in place — opponents have been growing more organized and developing a louder voice.
The Move the Talbot Boys Confederate Monument Coalition, a group with as many as 500 members, has emerged and staged noisy rallies at the site. The local branch of the NAACP, which five years ago petitioned for the statue’s removal, has requested time to address the issue during future council meetings. A panel of faith leaders has done the same.
The county council’s only African American member, Republican Corey A. Pack, pressed his colleagues at their Dec. 15 meeting to consider the requests. But he was told only that some members would consider meeting with interested constituents one-on-one.
Richard Potter Jr., president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, dismissed the offer as a “stall tactic.”
Neither Pack nor Council President Charles F. (Chuck) Callahan, also a Republican, responded to requests for comment.
The statue’s opponents are promising to go the distance.
“Our rallying cry is that we are not going away,” said Ridgely Ochs of Easton, a retired journalist and a leading member of the Move the Monument Coalition. “And we are not going away. We will wear them down or vote them out.”
Most who are familiar with Talbot County agree that change has generally come slowly to the place, a jurisdiction at the heart of the Eastern Shore that was established in 1662.
With its early roots in shipping and tobacco, the county became a home to many who owned and traded slaves — including at an auction block in front of the courthouse — and it has largely remained politically conservative. When former Vice President Joe Biden narrowly won the vote in the county during the 2020 presidential election, it was the first such victory for a Democrat since 1964.
Historians say Talbot’s loyalties were deeply divided during the Civil War, with scores of residents taking up arms for each side.
It was half a century after the conflict ended — during the height of the Jim Crow era — that city leaders in Easton arranged to have the Talbot Boys memorial built. It was dedicated in 1916.
Today many in the county of nearly 40,000 people, about 81% of them white, say they became so accustomed to the monument’s presence over the years that they scarcely realized it was there.
But a movement by some to honor the legacy of Frederick Douglass, a legendary abolitionist who was born into slavery in the early 19th century in Talbot County, led to the placement of a statue of him near the Talbot Boys in 2011.
Four years later, the shooting of nine African American worshippers by a self-described white supremacist at a church service in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked a wave of removals of Confederate monuments across the country.
That was when the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, led by Potter, first petitioned the county council to have the monument removed. The council voted unanimously at the time to keep it in place.
It’s not so much the existence of the monument that his group opposes, Potter said recently, but its location. First, it stands on the same grounds as an auction block where enslaved Africans were once tortured and sold, and no one has put up a marker commemorating them. Second, it stands in front of a building where all Americans are supposed to expect equal treatment.
“We have a monument that glorifies slavery on the courthouse lawn,” said Potter, a lifetime Easton resident who is African American. “It sends a message to the Black community: ‘Can you get a fair and just trial in this courthouse when you have to walk past that monument in front of it?’”
Ochs, who is white, agrees.
“It’s standing there reminding people every day that they’re not quite equal,” she says. “There’s a place for it. It’s just not on a courthouse lawn that is supposed to be about liberty and justice.”
One group that consistently cites the historical importance of the monument is Save the Talbot Boys, a coalition formed as the public debate heated up in 2015.
The group’s online support suggests the county remains polarized on the subject. A petition one member posted on the internet that year drew more than 1,200 signatures, and its Facebook page boasts 1,297 followers, more than twice the number on the Move the Monument page.
The monument “is a piece of history and a splendid work of art that tells the story of brother vs. brother where North and South came together, the border state of Maryland,” the 2015 petition read.
Group members have written letters to the editor and social media posts questioning whether the monument was built to intimidate African Americans and asserting that, while slavery was abominable, the South fought the North for other reasons, as well.
“I am so proud to grow up in this town and to honor local veterans on that statue supporting local families,” one supporter wrote on the Facebook site recently. “It is where it belongs for all of us to admire.”
Ochs said that while such views remain strong in some quarters, few, if any, members of the group have attended Move the Monument rallies this year to express opposition.
Those Save the Talbot Boys members contacted for this article did not respond to requests for comment.
Both the NAACP and Move the Monument Coalition have said they back moving the monument to a museum or other private site, where anyone interested can see and consider it in its historical context.
That’s one idea the NAACP hopes to get across as it plans further activities, beginning in January. Ochs said her group plans online meetings to consider new lines of attack, including letter-writing campaigns, dialogue with council members, and fresh outreach to members of the business community.
“Any way we can make it clear we are not going away,” she says.