freedom ride talbot county courthouse

Civil rights activists gather in front of the Talbot Boys Confederate monument in Easton on the first stop of their Freedom Bus Ride across the Eastern Shore

EASTON — Dozens of civil rights activists, African-American leaders and passionate individuals joined the Summer’s Freedom Bus Ride on Monday to highlight historical, contemporary and systemic racism and police misconduct on the Eastern Shore.

Modeled after the trips of the Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the bus made stops at significant landmarks in Easton, Cambridge, Salisbury, Berlin and Ocean City. The activists' goal was to bring awareness to the fight for racial equality and justice and the end to police brutality.

Freedom Bus riders first stopped in Easton at the Talbot Boys Confederate monument to listen to local advocates speak on issues surrounding the statue.

The monument, which was erected and placed on the Talbot County Courthouse lawn in 1916, has been a point of contention within Talbot County. Opponents of the statue argue that it is a symbol racism and white supremacy; those in favor of keeping it argue that removing the statue would be erasing county history.

The Talbot County Council voted 3-2 to keep the monument in place in August 2020. A federal lawsuit was filed in May 2021 to take efforts on removing the statue from the courthouse grounds to the next level.

Before local activists spoke about the monument, the crowd linked arms and gathered to sing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” a freedom song frequently sung by participants in earlier civil rights movements.

“The only thing I can say to you is that we have three council members who embody the messages that this monument set, which is racism, bigotry and hatred for a group of people,” said Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP.

The local NAACP branch and other groups in support of moving the monument “tried” to work with the county’s elected officials, but they were “unwilling” to work with the groups, Potter said. One of those groups is the Move the Monument Coalition, whose yellow-shirted members came to the courthouse lawn in solidarity with the Freedom Bus riders.

The coalition, which formed after the death of George Floyd last summer, “believes that this monument has no place on a public site of justice and equality,” said Jess Taylor, a member of the Coalition’s leadership team.

The Freedom Bus then stopped at the Harriet Tubman Memorial Park in Cambridge, taking a moment of silence to remember Tubman and Gloria Richardson, another local civil rights activist who died at 99 last Thursday.

Cambridge is a significant location in African-American civil rights movements in Maryland. Tubman, who was born in Dorchester County, liberated many slaves in the region in the mid-1800s. Richardson was born in Cambridge and was active in the 1960s civil rights demonstrations in the town. A notable figure in the local civil rights movement, Richardson is well known for being a leader in the Cambridge Movement and signing the Treaty of Cambridge in 1963 with then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. That accord helped with desegregation and voting rights efforts.

Members of the crowd in Cambridge spanned a wide range of ages, but Del. Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel, had a message for the next generation of civil rights activists.

“If you look around today, you will see young people amongst us; we are teaching them that the expectation is no racism, equality and opportunities for everyone,” she said. “So this march today, this Freedom Ride, is to send the message that we will not tolerate racism anymore.”

Natalie Jones is a reporter at The Star Democrat in Easton covering crime, health, education and Talbot County Council. You can reach her with questions, comments or tips at njones@chespub.com.

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