EASTON — Less than 100 protesters took to the Talbot County Courthouse lawn on Tuesday, June 7. Police surrounded the premises. Flowers were laid at the feet of the center of the controversy — the Confederate Talbot Boys statue.
The Talbot County Branch of the NAACP organized a protest and press conference on the courthouse lawn Tuesday before the Talbot County Council was scheduled to revote — this time in a public session — on the destiny of the Talbot Boys statue.
It has been nearly a year since a man who described himself as a white supremacist entered an African-American church in Charleston, S.C., and killed nine people during a Bible study session. Since then, communities across Maryland, and even the country, have reassessed and removed Civil War Confederate symbols from public grounds, including the Confederate flag that flew at the South Carolina capitol.
“There were men and women who said that the South Carolina flag would never come down. There are those who today in Talbot County say that this particular memorial will not be removed,” said Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders. “I am here to tell you it’s just a matter of time.”
The Talbot Boys monument, erected in 1916, lists 84 Civil War veterans from Talbot County who fought for the Confederacy. The statue at the top is of a Confederate color-bearer draped in a Confederate flag. It is the only Civil War monument on the courthouse grounds.
Shortly after the church shooting, the Talbot NAACP proposed the Talbot County Council vote to remove the Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn, move it elsewhere and erect a new statue depicting both Union and Confederate soldiers from Talbot County.
The NAACP and others who support the statue’s removal view it as an affront to humanity representing a Confederate-sympathetic portion of Talbot County society who wished the United States’ slavery to remain. Those who spoke Tuesday emphasized the statue’s placement on courthouse lawn, which is supposed to be a symbol of justice, and is also the location where the slave market operated in Talbot County.
“Its presence glorifies and legitimizes all of the evils, indignities and human suffering of slavery and it enshrines racism, plain and simple,” said Walter Black, vice president of Talbot NAACP.
After starting the process publicly, hearing arguments from supporters who wanted the statue removed and from people who wanted it to remain, the Talbot County Council voted in a closed session to keep it on the lawn and said it will permit the erection of a monument commemorating those Union soldiers from Talbot County who fought in the Civil War.
That private vote was declared improper by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board, and the county council then rescheduled a public vote for Tuesday, June 7.
After the press conference on Tuesday, the council voted to uphold its initial decision and keep the statue on the courthouse lawn.
Some who spoke at the press conference, like JoAnn Asparagus, Talbot NAACP President Richard Potter and Talbot County Clergy and Laity Chairman Bishop Joel Johnson were not hopeful that the Tuesday public vote would differ from the private vote taken months before.
But, many of the speakers Tuesday said they’re dedicated to see the Confederate flag removed from the courthouse lawn, and will continue their efforts despite the vote.
“Whatever it takes, however long it takes, we are in it for the long haul,” said Asparagus, who introduced the speakers at the press conference Tuesday.
Both Johnson and Rabbi Peter Hyman said the proposal is to remove the statue from the lawn and place it somewhere that people who wish to honor it can, and those who view it as an object of their heritage can appreciate it.
The Talbot Historical Society is one idea of where to move it, others include donating it to the Smithsonian Institute, or moving it to the Spring Hill Cemetery, where many of the Confederate soldiers whose names appear on the monument are buried, said Talbot NAACP President Richard Potter.
“With the historical context of the Confederate flag, why would our local county council want to uphold this Confederate monument on governmental property?” Potter asked. “Well the answer is simple. Our county council members lack cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness.”
Some people who are part of the “Save the Talbot Boys” movement, and some who aren’t but support the mission — to keep the monument on the courthouse lawn — listened in on the protest Tuesday.
One man in particular, whose family is of Chestertown and who spoke up at the press conference but refused to give his name, said removing the Talbot Boys statue will create a domino effect of removing other Confederate emblems, as it already has across the country.
“Our history and culture are being attacked,” he said. “That guy that attacked those innocent church-goers in Charleston, in my opinion, hijacked the flag’s meaning and its symbology to people like me, because I had relatives leave Maryland to fight under that flag honorably and for the right reasons, not because of slavery.”
During the protest, the man said that if the Talbot Boys statue is removed, then so should the Frederick Douglass statue across the walkway on the courthouse lawn, as law said before the Douglass statue’s placement in 2004 that only veteran monuments were allowed on the courthouse lawn. His statement was met by jeers from the crowd of protesters.
(During the 2004 debate over the erection of a statue of Frederick Douglass on the courthouse lawn, some opponents of a Douglass statue at that location claimed the county had reserved that area for monuments to veterans. However, there was no county policy or law in place restricting monuments on the courthouse green to just those for veterans.)
He said removing the Talbot Boys statue feels to him as big of an injustice as the NAACP and its supporters feel it is to keep it on the courthouse lawn.
“Their definition of progress, to me, is an infringement on my sense of history and belonging to this country and this state,” he said. “It’s just as offensive to me to have them, under what I consider to be bizarre reasoning, to take down all of our monuments.”
Brittany Shannahan also spoke up during the protest. She said one of her ancestors is named on the statue, but she wants to see it removed, because she views it as a lopsided representation of Talbot County history “at a time of really increased sensitivity to the reality of oppression of young black folks by the criminal justice system to have the statue there that was placed there to literally remind black people that they did not belong here.”
Before the council’s decision on Tuesday, but knowing the council likely would uphold the previous vote, Potter said that he would get together with the Talbot NAACP executive board and the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union, which joined with the NAACP in calling for the statue’s removal, to develop a strategy moving forward.