Some residents who have asked the county for years to take down the statue, which honors those who fought for the Confederates during the Civil War while Maryland remained in the Union, celebrated the vote, with many gathered in bright yellow T-shirts on the courthouse lawn, sharing snacks and voicing their jubilation and relief.
Others came to the microphone during the public comment period, infuriated.
“As I see it, the county council has just said that Talbot County supports the effort of those people who want to erase the history of the United States and replace it with unrelenting hatred of those people who came before,” resident David Montgomery said, to whoops and cheers from a few supporters.
“I think this is a very sad day for Talbot County to be swept up in the same horrific Marxist idealism that’s going on throughout our country. Wiping away history is what Marxism is based on,” the next speaker said. She was followed by a woman who told the council members who voted to remove the statue: “When you go home tonight, ask yourself before I go to sleep, what did I do … to better the life of those of us who have lived and built this county? And if there is any honesty and integrity left in your heart, the answer is going to be none.”
The 105-year-old Talbot Boys statue has been a target of criticism for years. As other Confederate monuments came down, from four statues hoisted off their pedestals at night in Baltimore in 2017 to Richmond’s Robert E. Lee statue that was removed last week after a lengthy legal battle, Talbot leaders’ positions slowly changed.
Council member Corey W. Pack (R) opposed moving the statue in 2015 and 2016 but said George Floyd’s police killing changed his mind. Last year, he co-sponsored a resolution to remove it that failed on a 3-to-2 vote.
On Tuesday, Frank Divilio (R) became the deciding vote, moving from opposing removal last year to supporting it. He joined Pack and Pete Lesher (D). Council President Charles F. Callahan (R) and Laura Price (R) opposed the resolution.
In a statement, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the statue a symbol of injustice and inequality and said he was glad to see the vote to “remove this stain on justice.”
Residents who want to keep the statue argued that the plan to move it to the privately owned Cross Keys battlefield park, more than 200 miles away in Harrisonburg, Va., is improper given a letter from the foundation that runs the park saying that while it had agreed to accept the statue, it believes monuments ought to stay where they were erected.
They questioned who is paying for the statue’s removal, which the council said would be privately funded. While the council’s vote called for the statue to come down “as soon as is practicable,” some said they would try to prevent the plan from moving forward.
But those who longed for this vote for years greeted it as a milestone.
Henry Herr said he was “overjoyed.” Two years ago, he came to this same courthouse alone. He asked for the statue to be removed, then watched his words go unacknowledged while the council spent the next half-hour debating about recycling.
Tuesday, he sat side by side with fellow activists, in a meeting room too packed to hold them all.
When it was his turn to address the council again, he thanked them. “I told you that I wasn’t going to go away,” he said. “Hopefully this will bring some peace in the community.”