By Adam Pagnucco.
Talbot County is one of the best vacation spots on the entire East Coast. Visitors can enjoy excellent restaurants, superb art galleries and museums, great shopping, boating on the bay and deluxe accommodations at the Inn at Perry Cabin, the Tidewater Inn, the Robert Morris Inn and Sandaway Suites. It’s a perfect place for affluent tourists from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York to get away for a long weekend. But Talbot County’s leaders might be ready to give all of that up. Why?
Because some of them appear to believe that honoring slavery is more important.
The issue at hand is the fate of the Talbot Boys statue at the Talbot County Courthouse in Easton. Dedicated in 1916, the statue is one of hundreds erected by sympathizers of the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.) decades after the Civil War ended. As part of their effort to whitewash history, confederate supporters attempted to depict the conflict as being about states’ rights but the statements made by the seceding states themselves demonstrated that their real cause was protecting slavery. Opponents have tried to get the Talbot Boys statue removed before, but nationwide protests against racism have given the effort new energy.
Photo credit: Wikipedia.
On June 23, Talbot County Council President Corey Pack authored Resolution 290 for consideration by the 5-member council. The resolution would remove the statue but it would preserve the statue’s base, which says “C.S.A.” and lists the names of confederate soldiers from Talbot County. It also contains this language concerning other statues on county property.
No new statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action shall be permitted on County-owned property.
Existing statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action shall be removed from County-owned property.
The emphasis of new monuments associated with military action located on County-owned property shall be on the names of those American servicemen and women who served in the conflict.
For the avoidance of doubt, the prohibition on statues depicting persons, signs or symbols associated with military action does not apply to the statue of Frederick Douglass, who is remembered for his contributions to civil society.
This resolution would preserve a statue base as a monument to the C.S.A. while prohibiting statues honoring American veterans of all other wars, including the Revolutionary War and both world wars. Another proposal from Council Member Frank Divilio would construct a “unity statue” of two boys, one from the union and the other from the confederacy, facing each other with their respective flags. Council Member Laura Price has said that the council should not be influenced by “an angry national movement.” Council Member Chuck Callahan has voted along with Pack and Price against removing the statue on previous occasions. Only Council Member Pete Lesher, the council’s sole Democrat, has called for removing the entire confederate monument altogether.
Let’s remember that the Talbot Boys statue stands near the entrance to the county courthouse. Apparently, those who protect it believe that people of color should have to look at a monument to white supremacy as they enter the courthouse, a place in which they are supposed to receive equal justice under the law. What more wretched symbol of due process could there be than something that celebrates slavery?
While Talbot’s leaders dicker over how much they should honor white supremacy, a long list of communities in the former confederate states have been taking down their monuments to traitors. They include Alexandria, Virginia; Birmingham, Alabama; Dallas, Texas; Houston, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; the University of Mississippi; New Orleans, Louisiana; Norfolk, Virginia; Orlando, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; Tampa, Florida and many others. More than 30 confederate monuments have been removed in Texas alone. Richmond, Virginia – the former capital city of the Confederacy – is on the verge of removing its confederate statues. Even lawmakers in Mississippi voted to remove the confederate battle flag from their state flag. Why should Talbot County be more protective of the Confederacy than many of the communities that actually were part of the Confederacy?
Talbot County has a large and profitable tourism industry that is struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. It depends on people from Baltimore, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Potomac, Fairfax, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and other (mostly progressive) communities staying over in Easton, St. Michaels and Oxford. Measured by percentage of employment and private sector wages paid, Talbot County is more dependent on its leisure and hospitality industries than anywhere else in Maryland except for Worcester and Queen Anne’s Counties.
What happens if Talbot’s county government comes out in defense of the Confederacy? Let’s just say that folks in the areas listed above are going to find out about that and they have MANY other tourism options in Maryland and elsewhere. Talbot would be wise to heed the experiences of South Carolina, which was boycotted by the NAACP and the NCAA for 15 years over its use of the confederate flag, and Arizona, which lost a Super Bowl because of its failure to recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday. Do Talbot’s elected officials really want to roll the dice with their economy?
Talbot County’s leaders have a choice. They can join the 21st Century along with communities in Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and the confederate capital of Richmond. Or they can trade tourism for nostalgia over slavery.