The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Maryland poised to say goodbye to state song that celebrates the Confederacy

Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker  Adrienne A. Jones  both pushed to get rid of the state song.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones both pushed to get rid of the state song. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
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After more than 10 tries over four decades, Maryland lawmakers have decided it is time to get rid of “Maryland, My Maryland,” the official state song that glorifies the Confederacy, refers to Abraham Lincoln as a “tyrant” and urges Maryland to secede to fight the “Northern scum.”

Critics have repeatedly denounced the ode as racist and unacceptable.

But efforts to repeal the song’s designation as the state anthem failed to gain approval from the General Assembly — until this year’s legislative session, which has been framed by the racial reckoning launched by last year’s social justice protests.

“This has stained the pages of our law for too long,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Sharee Sample-Hughes (D-Wicomico), who sponsored the House bill to do away with the song. “The passage of this legislation is one more way that we can, as a state, take a stand on racism.”

Large majorities in both the House and Senate approved measures repealing the song well before Monday’s crossover day, the point at which bills in general must have passed at least one chamber to have a chance at becoming law.

In a final procedural step, each bill must be voted on in the opposite chamber and then sent to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for consideration. Hogan said Monday that he is likely to sign the bill. “I don’t see any problem with it,” he said. “And I never liked the song in the first place.”

Some Maryland lawmakers want to link a health bill to America’s racism. Others refuse.

The legislature passed a flurry of other bills Monday to meet the deadline. The Senate approved a bill that would allow people with criminal records to serve on juries; a measure that would remove the governor from parole decisions for those serving life sentences; and legislation that would allow bars and restaurants to sell alcohol off premises beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

The jury duty bill includes an exemption for those who are still on parole or probation. The ­parole-reform measure — which has been pushed unsuccessfully for a decade — would bring Maryland in line with policies in 47 other states. Opponents of the parole-reform bill said the governor is a needed “backstop” on early release of prisoners.

The House approved a bill that would make Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery in the Southern United States, an official state holiday. The 110-to-25 vote came after an impassioned speech by Del. Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s), who argued that recognizing the “Independence Day of African American citizens” honors the legacy of abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, both born in Maryland, and sends a signal to Black Maryland residents that “we are worth it.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), the first Black woman to serve in that role, placed the state song legislation at the top of her party’s agenda last year, announcing she wanted the song gone.

The removal of the official designation, which dates to 1939, will be the latest step the state has taken to eliminate symbols that pay homage to the country’s racist past.

Last year, the Maryland State House Trust voted to take down a plaque that sympathized with the Confederacy. It had hung in the State House since 1964, the height of the Civil Rights movement.

In 2017, after the deadly rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, the statue of Roger B. Taney — a U.S. Supreme Court justice and slavery defender whose infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision said Black people could not be U.S. citizens — was taken off State House grounds.

Alternative song proposed for Md. hails Harriet Tubman, Elijah Cummings

Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), who has sponsored a bill to repeal or replace the song for three years, said its passage illustrates a new era in the General Assembly under Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City).

Jones succeeded longtime House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who died in 2019. Ferguson succeeded Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), the longest serving state Senate president in U.S. history, who gave up the gavel in early 2020 and died a year later.

“There has been a long battle between those who are offended by the lyrics and those who perceive it as an important aspect of preserving history,” Kagan said. “President Miller fell on the history side. He was an avid historian and it was a challenge to get it past him.”

On Friday, Ferguson said the song’s lyrics were “inappropriate.”

“Symbols matter,” he said. “We have to move forward.”

Unlike some past efforts, the bill does not create a process to replace “Maryland, My Maryland” with a new official song.

The lyrics were written by Confederate sympathizer and Baltimore native James Ryder Randall in 1861, the first year of the Civil War.

Maryland was a border state that allowed enslavement. It remained in the Union during the war, but many of its power brokers supported the Confederacy.

Maryland formed an advisory panel five years ago to study its state song and offer recommendations, which included replacing the song, amending it and doing away with a state song for 10 years. But no action was taken.

In 2018, the Senate approved a measure that would redesignate the song as the “historical state song” — an attempt at compromise by those who wanted to completely scrap it.

That bill did not receive a vote in the House.

This session, the Senate vote to repeal the song was unanimous. And the House passed the legislation 94 to 38.

Maryland House speaker wants to repeal Civil War-era state song

Maryland’s state song celebrates the Confederacy. This alternative hails Harriet Tubman and Elijah Cummings.

Justice Taney defended slavery in 1857. Now his statue is gone from Md.’s State House.