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The era of ‘Talbot Boys’ statues is over | COMMENTARY

Talbot County Council voted 3-2 not to remove the "Talbot Boys" memorial at the County courthouse lawn on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Talbot Boys statue pays tribute to county residents who sided with the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Talbot County Council voted 3-2 not to remove the "Talbot Boys" memorial at the County courthouse lawn on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Talbot Boys statue pays tribute to county residents who sided with the Confederate Army during the Civil War. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

In its tourism brochures, Talbot County bills itself as the “treasure” of the Eastern Shore and the “perfect balance of rural simplicity and urban refinement.” It’s a prevalent attitude in a county with eye-popping, multimillion-dollar waterfront estates, some populated by the famous (or infamous) Washington, D.C. A-listers, including Dick Cheney, Greta Van Susteren, Donald Rumsfeld and Lynda Carter. And that viewpoint certainly extends to Easton, the county seat, once described by a local author as among the Eastern Shore’s “pearls” of waterfront towns, having long regarded itself as the “most cultured.”

But Easton has something else to call attention to itself: the most shameful tribute to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy that exists in a high-profile public space in the state of Maryland. That title was clinched on Aug. 11 when the Talbot County Council voted, 3-2, not to remove the “Talbot Boys” statue that has stood on its courthouse green since 1916. The monument depicts a romanticized lone Rebel soldier gazing at the distance and holding a Confederate battle flag, a tribute to 84 soldiers from the county who fought for the losing side in the Civil War.

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It was one thing to stomach this atrocity decades ago, when the casual racism invoked by an homage to those who fought to maintain white supremacy was broadly accepted, particularly in this Southern sympathizing corner of the state. But that is clearly no longer the case. Even most local residents seem to recognize this. A statue of Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist who grew up in the county, was added to the courthouse green nine years ago. That he is caste in bronze is the only explanation of how the father of the civil rights movement can stomach his proximity to such a tribute to the defense of human trafficking erected on a site once used to auction slaves.

Mark Twain is said to have observed that when the end of the world comes, he’d like to be in Cincinnati because the city is always 20 years behind the times. And so it seems to be with Easton where time — and race relations — stand still. Civil rights organizations from the ACLU and NAACP on down have been lobbying for the Talbot Boys removal for many years to no avail. After the Charleston, South Carolina, attack on a church that left nine African Americans killed? No. After the 2017 “Unite The Right” march with its tiki torches and white supremacist messaging? Not then either. And now, apparently, not in the post-George Floyd era where neighboring Eastern Shore communities from Chestertown to Salisbury are actually making progress in accepting the concept that Black lives matter.

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“The statue’s prominent placement at the courthouse is insufferable,” Deborah A. Jeon, the ACLU Maryland’s legal director, wrote the County Council last month. “Courthouses are the visual embodiments of the rule of law and values of the community, reflecting ‘the beliefs, priorities and aspirations of a people,’ as former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote in foreword to a book on Virginia’s courthouses. This is why Confederate sympathizers specifically chose to erect monuments there. They wanted to send a message to Black people that the law was not meant to protect them.”

It is surely no accident that all three votes against removing the statue were made by Republicans. The GOP’s love-affair with white supremacy continues apace. Who is setting the example? Who lobbies for military bases to carry Confederate names? Who castigates removal of statues that pay tribute to treason? Who seeks to stoke racial division to further his reelection? Donald Trump had nothing to do with the Talbot County Council choice but his example, his racism and embrace of supremacist rhetoric, isn’t lost on anyone.

We urge the County Council to reverse course as soon as possible, to reject the laughable notion that the pandemic caused too little public input to make this decision, and to vote to remove the Talbot Boys statue immediately. As it stands, Talbot County continues to send an unmistakable message that its heart has not changed since the era of Black lynchings and those late night, white-hooded gatherings where crosses were burned. Respect history, not pseudo-history, and follow the lead of Richmond, Va., a former Confederate capital: Tear it down.

The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels, writer Peter Jensen and summer intern Anjali DasSarma — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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