If the State House Trust thinks simply altering a Confederate plaque that hangs in the State House will help resolve issues over its offensiveness, they are sadly mistaken and completely missed the point.
Etching off an imprint of the Confederate flag and replacing it with the Maryland banner, doesn’t erase what the plaque symbolizes.
Members of the trust seem to believe that we somehow need to recognize both Confederate and Union soldiers, as the plaque does, in an apparent ode to the fact that Maryland was divided during the Civil War. We are supposed to give equal play to these different perspectives. That ignores the fact that the Confederates represented a side that wanted to keep African Americans bonded in brutal slavery. Anything that discounts that is a white-washed narrative that simply isn’t true.
What an affront and disrespectful rebuke to Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones, the first African American person to hold the position and who made removing the plaque one of her first undertakings. Ms. Jones was the only person on the four-member trust to vote against a redesigned plaque, expressing her disappointment that such an offensive symbol would remain publicly displayed.
We agree with Ms. Jones, who called it the “last Confederate vestige” at the State House. There was no compromise in the Civil War — one side lost, and the other won. Neither should there be a so-called compromise about the fate of the plaque, which the state trust should have removed rather than agree to redesign. Keeping it publicly displayed where it currently hangs near the Old House of Delegates Chamber on the first floor of the State House sends the wrong message of sympathizing with the losing side and its immoral stance.
And make no mistake: The newly designed version will continue to make the same statement it always has. An inscription on the plaque clearly states that its purpose is to ensure that Maryland “leaves for posterity evidence for her remembrance of her nearly 63,000 native sons who served in the Union forces and the more than 22,000 in those of the Confederacy in the War Between the States.” Members of the plaque’s dedicating commission also made no judgments on who was the right or wrong side, the inscription said.
Also significant to note, is that the plaque was dedicated by the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission in 1964, during an era where these types of Confederate memorials and remembrances were erected and displayed not to preserve history, but in a stubborn protest and objection to the changes taking place at the time. These statues typically went up during two main time periods of racial animosity in the country, the early 1900s and the ’50s and ’60s as the civil rights movement gained momentum. They were often displayed in high profile places such as the grounds of government buildings, or in this case, on the walls.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a member of the trust, is correct when he says that we don’t need to erase history. The history of slavery is forever linked to the inequalities that African Americans have endured and still experience today, and we must never forget it. Put that history in a museum or a library archives, don’t celebrate it in such a public display in a place that is supposed to represent our common values.
The violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 served as an awakening for many jurisdictions and there was a wave of monument removals. The state needs to join other cities who have come to realize that there is no place for public displays of Confederate symbols, including Baltimore, where two years ago then-Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered four statutes brought down in a secret operation in the middle of the night.
The state trust made the right decision in 2017 when it voted to remove a statue from the State House grounds of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery. It’s too bad they didn’t make the right choice this time around. We’re not sure why they weren’t so enlightened this time around.
Perhaps, it was the influence of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is also a member of the trust. Mr. Miller objected to the removal of the Taney statue and abstained from that vote, noting that a statute of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall on the other side of the State House served as a balance. Perhaps, Mr. Miller was more convincing this time around.
So now we’re going to spend $2,400 to erase the offensive flag, while preserving the offensive sentiment. We couldn’t think of a more ridiculous waste of money.