Gov. Larry Hogan plans to sign off on a measure that will ditch Maryland’s pro-Confederacy state song, his spokesman said Thursday.
After decades of failed attempts, state lawmakers passed a bill this year that eliminates the song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” from the list of official symbols of the state. Lawmakers passed it by overwhelming margins, which would have allowed them to overturn any veto.
Before the bill’s final passage, the Republican governor said in March that he was likely to sign it. But he hadn’t committed to doing so and hadn’t said much else about it, while his office only said that “the governor will thoughtfully review any legislation that reaches his desk.”
Hogan’s spokesman, Mike Ricci, responded Thursday to a comment on Twitter by writing: “The governor said he’s never cared much for the song at all. He plans to sign the measure.”
Hogan has until the end of the month to sign or veto the more than 800 bills the Maryland General Assembly passed during its recent 90-day session. Any bill that he doesn’t take action on will go into effect without his signature. He signed dozens into law in April.
“Maryland, My Maryland” features lyrics drawn from an 1861 poem by James Ryder Randall, who was distraught about a friend shot during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore en route to Washington at the start of the Civil War. It’s set to a tune most people know as “O Christmas Tree.”
The poem’s opening line, “The despot’s heel is on thy shore,” is generally understood to be a reference to President Abraham Lincoln. Randall urges Marylanders to “avenge the patriotic gore / that flecked the streets of Baltimore.” By the eighth verse, Randall suggests that being wounded for the cause — “better the fire upon thee roll” — is preferable to suffering “crucifixion of the soul.”
“Maryland, My Maryland” has been the state song for 82 years and once was commonly played at ceremonial events, sung at the Preakness Stakes thoroughbred horse race and rung from the bells at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel. As more people became aware of the history behind the lyrics, public performances dropped off. It was not performed at the 2020 Preakness.
Lawmakers tried many times to abolish or alter the song, but always got hung up on details, such as whether any parts of “Maryland, My Maryland” could be salvaged or what song should replace it. Last summer, House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, a Baltimore County Democrat and the first person of color to lead a General Assembly chamber, said the song was “extremely offensive.”
Ultimately, legislators decided this year that eliminating the song without replacing it was the cleanest way to dissociate the state from it. Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Democrat from Dorchester and Wicomico counties, sponsored the repeal in the House, while Democratic Sen. Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County sponsored the Senate version of the bill.