State senators on Friday approved a bill that strips “Maryland, My Maryland” of its designation as the “official” state song and re-brands the pro-Confederate anthem as Maryland’s “historical” tune.
Supporters of the measure hope the proposed legislation, which now moves to the House of Delegates, can put some distance between modern Maryland and the song’s 157-year-old lyrics that refer to Unionists as “Northern scum” and label President Abraham Lincoln a “despot.”
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would not erase what many consider to be racist lyrics but instead would serve as a symbol.
“This bill acknowledges a dated, offensive, racist-themed song,” the Montgomery County Democrat said. “It’s time to move forward.”
Sen. Barbara Robinson, a Baltimore Democrat who had sponsored two other bills seeking to change the song’s lyrics, said the song’s proposed demotion is meaningful to Maryland’s black residents.
Robinson said the existing lyrics “are not right for today for so many of us who have to sit and listen to those words being sung over and over again.”
Republicans who have defended the song’s place in Maryland’s history criticized the compromise legislation for accomplishing nothing of substance.
“If we have issues with the song, then let’s change the lyrics,” Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings said. “This is a bill that does nothing.”
But in advancing the bill to the House of Delegates by a 30-13 vote, supporters said it is time for Maryland to find a new state song.
“The song needs to be put away somewhere. We’ll come up with a new song,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said. “I think the bill’s appropriate at this point of time in history.”
Robinson said, “It’s not changing history. History doesn’t change.”
Kagan’s original bill would have created a selection panel to hold a competition for a replacement for “Maryland, My Maryland,” written by Southern sympathizer James Ryder Randall in 1861.
He wrote the song after what is known as Baltimore’s Pratt Street Riot brought the first bloodshed of the Civil War, as rebel sympathizers attacked Union soldiers bound for Washington.
The song, set to the tune of “O Tannenbaum,” exhorts Marylanders to take up the Southern cause and “avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore.”
Kagan’s bill was one of three proposed in the Senate to scrap all or some of the 1861 lyrics, which the General Assembly adopted as official in 1939 — the year the film “Gone With the Wind” was released and romanticization of the Old South was at its peak. Two measures that proposed altered lyrics set to the same tune failed in committee.
Kagan’s bill survived, but only after it was limited to demoting the song from “official” to “historical.”
Disagreement over the song has emerged repeatedly in Maryland.
In August 2017, the University of Maryland marching band decided to stop playing “Maryland, My Maryland” before football games. The move came after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. Earlier that year, the performance of the song at the Preakness horse race only included the third verse, which includes no Confederate battle cry lyrics.
In 2016 state senators voted to keep the third verse of the song and add words from a 1894 poem by Western Maryland teacher James T. White. But the bill died in the House of Delegates. Another bill that would have established a contest for a new state song also died that year.