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Civil War plaque could be removed from Maryland State House, following House speaker’s push

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones wants a plaque removed from the State House in Annapolis that commemorates both Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The plaque was modified last year to cover up the American flag and the Confederate flag.
Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones wants a plaque removed from the State House in Annapolis that commemorates both Union and Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The plaque was modified last year to cover up the American flag and the Confederate flag. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun)

For more than 50 years, a plaque in Maryland’s historic State House paid tribute to both Confederate and Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War and “tried to do their duty as they saw it.”

Now it could be coming down.

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Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, who tried unsuccessfully last year to remove the plaque, now appears to have gained support on the panel overseeing the State House to take the plaque down.

“This plaque is not a symbol that belongs in our seat of government: the very place where Washington resigned his Commission to create our country; where we have passed monumental civil rights laws; and where we have stood together to work toward equality for every Marylander,” Jones wrote Thursday to her fellow members of the State House Trust, which oversees the historic capitol building in Annapolis.

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The four-member board rejected a similar proposal from Jones last year. Instead of removing the plaque, the State House Trust voted to cover up an image of crossed American and Confederate flags at the top of the “Maryland Remembers” plaque.

In response to Jones’ renewed push to get rid of the plaque, a key member of the State House Trust is promoting another compromise: Take down the plaque, and replace it with a more historically accurate commemoration of the Civil War and Maryland’s role in it.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who sits on the trust and is suggesting the compromise, said he wants visitors to the State House to understand that Maryland was a slave state with many Confederate sympathizers and soldiers.

“To build a better future, we must reckon with our past, not hide from it,” said Rutherford, a Republican, in a statement Friday. “Erasing our history just because it makes us uncomfortable harms the work we must do.”

Jones isn’t going along with that.

“The Speaker does not believe we need a replacement plaque,” said Alexandra Hughes, Jones’ chief of staff, in a statement. “She continues to press the State House Trust for complete removal.”

The State House Trust oversees the historic seat of government and must approve significant changes to the building and its grounds. Trust members include the House of Delegates speaker, the president of the Senate, the governor or his designee, and the board chairman of the Maryland Historical Trust.

Maryland is the latest place where Confederate memorials are getting new scrutiny, following protests across the nation after the death of George Floyd, who was killed two weeks ago when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“The past two weeks have reignited our national conversation about the systemic racial injustice that continues throughout the United States of America,” Jones wrote.

“Thank you for this timely, and necessary proposal," Senate President Bill Ferguson wrote in response to Jones’ letter. “I thank the Speaker for her leadership on this issue and vote in support of the removal of this plaque.”

Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, wasn’t on the State House Trust last year when the plaque was last discussed. His predecessor, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., voted for the compromise of covering up the Confederate flag.

Rutherford and the fourth member of the board, Maryland Historical Trust Chairwoman Laura Mears, also voted last year in favor of covering up the Confederate flag.

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Mears could not be reached for comment Friday.

Maryland’s Civil War history is complex, and the plaque has long troubled Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat who became the General Assembly’s first female and African American presiding officer last year.

Her first public act as speaker was to call for removing the plaque.

“The message projected by this plaque does not seek to correctly document history but instead sympathizes with Confederate motivations and memorializes Confederate soldiers,” Jones wrote last year.

The plaque is affixed to a wall on the first floor of the State House. Dedicated in 1964 by the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission, it notes that commission members “did not attempt to decide who was right and who was wrong, or to make decisions on other controversial issues.”

The plaque features type saying 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.”

After the trust’s vote last year not to remove the plaque, workers placed a strip of metal with a Maryland flag on it over the American and Confederate flags.

A plaque in the State House commemorating the Civil War was modified last year to cover up an image that showed American and Confederate flags crossed. House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones had wanted the whole plaque removed because it honored both Union and Confederate soldiers, but the State House Trust voted to modify it instead.
A plaque in the State House commemorating the Civil War was modified last year to cover up an image that showed American and Confederate flags crossed. House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones had wanted the whole plaque removed because it honored both Union and Confederate soldiers, but the State House Trust voted to modify it instead. (Pamela Wood)

Jones continued to take issue with the text on the plaque, and said this week that it’s time to get rid of the plaque altogether.

“The language of the plaque still remains which sympathizes with the Confederacy,” Jones wrote.

The State House Trust has removed divisive symbols before. Following the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, the trust voted to remove a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, who wrote the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and said black Americans could not become citizens.

The statue was removed from the State House lawn in the middle of the night.

Other vestiges of the Confederacy remain in Maryland’s symbols.

The state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” has lyrics drawn from an 1861 poem about a melee that occurred when Union troops marched through Baltimore en route to Washington. The lyrics urge Marylanders to “avenge the patriotic gore / that flecked the streets of Baltimore” and refers refer to President Abraham Lincoln as a “despot.” Efforts to replace or modify the state song have failed.

Maryland’s state flag, adopted in 1904, combines the black-and-gold Calvert family coat of arms and the red-and-white Crossland family arms, which was used by pro-Confederacy sympathizers. Some consider the state flag a symbol of postwar unity, while others see it as a remnant of the failed Confederacy.

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