Over the objections of Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, the State House Trust has decided to amend, but not discard, a plaque that pays tribute to both Union and Confederate soldiers who served and died in the Civil War.
In one of her first actions after becoming speaker in May, Jones proposed removing the plaque at the State House because, she said, its authors sought to avoid what is history: “that there was a right side and a wrong side in the Civil War.”
Jones called it the “last Confederate vestige” at the State House and said the plaque "does not seek to correctly document history, but instead sympathizes with Confederate motivations and memorializes Confederate soldiers.”
Instead of removing the plaque, however, the State House Trust voted 3-1 last week to spend more than $2,400 to alter it. The change will remove the plaque’s Confederate flag.
But it keeps language honoring Confederate soldiers and a sentence that says a state commission on the Civil War in 1964 made no determination about “who was right and who was wrong” in the war.
Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat; and Laura Mears of the Maryland Historical Trust voted in favor of amending the plaque. Jones, a Democrat, cast the lone “No” vote via email on Oct. 3.
Rutherford, in a June letter, endorsed removing the Confederate flag, rather than the entire plaque.
“The Confederate battle flag itself is a divisive symbol and has no place in this or any statehouse,” Rutherford wrote to fellow trust members. “Therefore, it is my recommendation that the ‘Maryland Remembers’ plaque be updated by replacing the Confederate flag with the Maryland state flag, while still acknowledging the sacrifices Marylanders made during the Civil War."
“We cannot erase our history, nor should we,” he said. "It is important that we remember, and teach future generations, that ours was a divided state.”
Miller’s chief of staff, Jake Weissmann, said the Senate president agreed with Rutherford’s suggestion as a compromise.
Jones’ request represented one of her first official actions after she was elected speaker May 1. An African-American woman from Baltimore County, she is the first presiding officer of the General Assembly who is not a white man.
The plaque is affixed to a wall near the Old House of Delegates Chamber on the first floor of the State House. It was dedicated in 1964 by the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission.
The top of the plaque features the American flag and the Confederate flag crossed over the words, “Maryland Remembers.” The plaque says 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.”
The plaque notes that members of the commission “did not attempt to decide who was right and who was wrong, or to make decisions on other controversial issues" and goes on to honor “the citizens who, during the Civil War, tried to do their duty as they saw it.”
Jones wrote in May that the State House should reflect history as it happened and “not what some may have wished it would be.”
“History clearly tells us that there was a right and a wrong side of the Civil War,” Jones wrote.
The Civil War, in which more than 700,000 people died, was fought largely over slavery. While Maryland was not a member of the Confederacy, it was a slaveholding state with Southern supporters.
The trust voted last week to spend $2,438 to “grind down” the Confederate flag and the American flag on the plaque, replacing them with a single emblem of the current Maryland flag. The change also would include adding “hidden stud mounts” to the plaque, among other work.
Jones’ chief of staff, Alexandra M. Hughes, wrote in a Sept. 17 email objecting to the plan to keep the plaque that the “speaker was concerned about the flags AND the language in the plaque. She knows the trust can outvote her, however, she asked me again to highlight the concerns about this plaque hanging in the State House. ... She asks, again, that the trust consider the message that this plaque remaining in the State House sends."
The work amending the plaque is expected to begin shortly.
The trust in 2017 voted to remove a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney from the State House grounds. Taney was the author of the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and said black Americans could not become citizens. His statue was removed in August 2017 during a period where cities around the country, including Baltimore, removed statues linked to the Confederacy and slavery after a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Miller objected to the removal of the statue and abstained from that vote. He said at the time that the placement of a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall — a civil rights champion, the first black justice and a Baltimore native — on the other side of the State House in 1996 reflected a compromise and served to balance the Taney statue.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.