ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland lawmakers who support changing the official state song think the time is right to finally wipe away “Northern scum” and other sensitive pre-Civil War phrases.
“Maryland, My Maryland,” set to the traditional seasonal tune of “O,Tannenbaum,” was written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall and adopted as the state song in 1939.
Previous attempts to change it have stalled, partly because lawmakers were reluctant to tinker with history. Now, some say recent events involving Confederate statues may help to change the language in what was originally a poem that doubled as a call to arms.
In August, several days after violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., Maryland officials removed from the statehouse grounds a statue of Roger Taney. Taney was the U.S. Supreme Court justice who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African-Americans.
Also in August, the University of Maryland marching band announced it no longer would play the song before football games.
“I think exactly this is the year,” said Del. Antonio Hayes, a Baltimore Democrat who is sponsoring one of the bills to change the song. “Given what’s happened in Charlottesville, given what’s happened with the monuments and all of the tension here in Maryland, I think this is the year to do it.”
Baltimore, Maryland’s largest city, saw long-simmering economic and racial tensions erupt in April 2015, after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, in police custody triggered the city’s worst riots in decades.
Randall’s poem calls for Maryland to secede from the Union at a time before the Civil War when many Maryland residents sympathized with the Confederacy. He wrote it while distraught about a friend shot during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore on their way to Washington.
The song begins with a hostile reference to President Abraham Lincoln: “The despot’s heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!”
It ends with a call for the state to stand up to the Union: “She is not dead, nor deaf, or dumb — Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!”
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Democrat, is proposing a bill that would repeal the current state song and find a replacement with the help of a contest.
“It’s long overdue to change Maryland’s state song,” Kagan said.
Another measure in the Senate would replace the words written by Randall in 1861 with ones penned by John T. White in 1894 describing the state’s natural beauty.
Hayes’ bill in the House would revise the state song to be the poem “Maryland, My Maryland,” written by Sean Tully last year and derived from Randall’s poem. It removes language considered to be offensive and replaces the line “Remember Howard’s warlike thrust,” a reference to John Eager Howard who was a distinguished infantry officer in the Revolutionary War and a Maryland governor. The line would be replaced with: “May Tubman’s name remain august,” a reference to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a Maryland native.
Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican who has opposed measures to replace the song in the past, said he is keeping an open mind this year about possibly changing some of the song without a complete replacement.
“I’m more receptive to that concept,” Cassilly said. “I mean, we retain the history, the heritage.”
Del. Kirill Reznik, a Democrat, is sponsoring a bill to repeal the song and require the state to create a commission to find a new one. While the variety of proposals could complicate a bill’s passage this year, he’s hopeful.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if this year is actually the year,” Reznik said. “I’m hoping this year is the year, because I think a lot of people are getting sick and tired of having to have this conversation year after year. It would be nice to get this issue off our table.”