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Libershal: High time to get rid of unnecessarily divisive, inflammatory state song | COMMENTARY

Why did our General Assembly make “Maryland, My Maryland” the first official Maryland State Song in 1939? The only reason given in the bill for making it the official song was that it was already known as the “Maryland State Song” and had been commonly accepted (“usage by common consent only”) for many years, thus it was “not only desirable but eminently fitting that this song, which has been in use for so many years” should be formally recognized as the State song.

But there had been an earlier attempt in 1935. The 2015 report by the State Song Advisory Group (led by the Maryland State Archivist at the direction of a House committee chair to determine if “Maryland, My Maryland” was a “fitting representation of Marylanders today”) couldn’t ascertain a particular reason for that attempt, but said it was possibly because of state historical interest just after the 300th anniversary of Maryland’s founding, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” having been recently named the national anthem.

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The advisory group also reported that the political and racial climate in Maryland during the 1930s should also be considered as motivation for the General Assembly to make a symbolic statement by naming the pro-Confederate song our official State song. The NAACP’s legal strategy against segregation was able to get a Black student into the University of Maryland in 1935 and equal pay for Black and white teachers statewide; there had been several lynchings on the Eastern Shore with a renewed movement for nationwide anti-lynching laws; and a recent high-profile murder trial of a Black man sparked racial fears. This mood may have inspired pushback.

Gov. Henry W. Nice rejected the 1935 proposal as having “objectionable verses” and he saw “nothing to be gained by this legislation” because it was divisive. He was a Republican, and in 1934 had been elected with much help from Baltimore’s Black voters. That support may have influenced his veto decision. After Nice was defeated in 1939 the new Democratic governor approved the General Assembly’s new bill.

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Controversy is nothing new with “Maryland, My Maryland”. Written as a pro-secession appeal to Maryland to rise up and join the Confederacy, it found a mixed reception in Maryland’s divided populace in 1861. Maryland was forced to stay in the Union and many more Marylanders were in the Union army than the Confederate. However, the melody was appealing, and pro-Union verses were written to be sung to the tune.

During the 1960′s Civil Rights struggle opposition to “Maryland, My Maryland” grew. And legislative efforts to resign “Maryland, My Maryland” as our official song have been made during many sessions since 1974. Some want to just change the lyrics. Some want to keep the song because it has historic value -- regardless of its message. The 2015 advisory group offers many options but said if kept only the third (least controversial) verse should be used. It also offers various suggested characteristics for a fitting replacement song. I don’t think we should waste time trying to find a replacement -- that’s another can of worms that will linger on.

It looks like this year may finally be the end of our current official state song.

To me, and probably many other folks, the best part of the song is its beautiful melody. Some may not even know of the lyrics or what they mean. Its lyrics are best relegated to the archives of Civil War history. It is truly a shame that “Maryland, My Maryland” does not extoll the patriotic fervor of the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. That would be a worthy song for us to cherish.

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I’ve never considered “Maryland, My Maryland” to be a racist song in itself. There is no racist language that I read in the lyrics. It is a call for secession and it remains divisive. And some people today consider support for the Confederacy to be a form of racism. To continue official support for “Maryland, My Maryland” more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War in a former slave state does indeed send a racist message.

Even though it has such a beautiful melody, it is way past time for Maryland to rid itself of our official pro-Confederate state song.

David Libershal writes from Taneytown.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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