Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., under fire for opposing the removal of a statue of former Supreme Court chief justice Roger B. Taney from the State House grounds, said Monday that he did not intend to cause division by defending the author of the Dred Scott decision.

“As a student of history, I intended to respectfully state my preference for education about our flawed history and the greater historical context of Justice Taney,” Miller (D-Calvert) said in a statement. “I do regret that sharing my historical perspective has distracted from the larger issue we must face together as a nation and from my role to bring unity and fight for a better Maryland.”

Miller’s comments came shortly after a dozen African American ministers and community activists staged a protest against him in a section of Prince George’s County that is part of the district Miller has represented for more than 40 years.

Standing on the street in Clinton, Md., where Miller’s family owns a liquor store and he operates a law firm, the demonstrators carried handwritten signs that read “No Bigotry, No Racism” and “Black Lives Matter” and chanted “Miller and Taney, both the same.”

They said Miller’s support for Taney, known for his defense of slavery, was a show of disrespect to voters in his district and patrons who support his family’s businesses.

Kayan Morgan, 4, stands among a coalition of pastors and civil rights activists in front of B.K. Miller’s Meats and Liquors in Clinton, Md., on Monday. The group is protesting Miller’s opposition to the removal of former chief justice Roger B. Taney’s statue from the State House grounds. (Allison Shelley/For The Washington Post)

“Our state senator, who we’ve supported overwhelming with black votes, with Democratic votes, chose to throw egg on the face of every one of his supporters by supporting Roger Taney,” said the Rev. Bruce Branch, executive director of the Maryland Business Clergy Partnership and a candidate for Prince George’s County Council in 2018. “The electorate has to wonder, whose side is our Senate president on?”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called for the removal of the Taney statue this month, in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville that followed a rally in support of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Miller, the longest-serving senate president in the country, then sent a letter to Hogan defending Taney’s character and describing him as a man with a “complex” past and a long history of public service.He credited Taney for “anti-slavery words and actions,” saying that “unlike George Washington who freed his slaves upon his death, Taney freed his slaves early in his life.”

In his statement Monday, Miller publicly addressed the violence in Charlottesville for the first time, calling it “horrific and reprehensible . . . the unspeakable acts of racists” and reiterated his past criticism of the “wrongheaded” Dred Scott ruling, which said black people could never be citizens, whether slaves or free.

The protesters said they supported calls by state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), to censure Miller and are seeking to meet with Miller to discuss racial and social justice and an elimination of pre-formed Democratic slates in Prince George’s County primaries.

Miller spokesman, Jake Weissmann, declined to comment on the protesters’ statements. He said Miller’s office had not received a request for a meeting.