A state advisory panel is calling for major changes to “Maryland, My Maryland,” a Civil War-era song that urges Maryland to join the Confederacy, bashes “Northern scum” — and has survived as the state anthem despite six previous efforts to eliminate it.
The panel offered six recommendations, including replacing the song that was written by James Ryder Randall, amending it or abandoning the idea of a state song for 10 years. The panel also suggested that “The Star-Spangled Banner” could be adopted as the state anthem, since it was written by a Marylander, Francis Scott Key, and describes the bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812.
Randall’s lyrics “do not reflect the feelings of all Marylanders at the time they were written or today,” said Elaine Rice Bachmann, deputy state archivist and co-chairman of the study panel.
This latest effort to change the song comes as states, cities and universities across the country are debating whether to remove from public grounds the names and statues of historical figures who, for many, represent a heritage of slavery and racism.
Many who are backing such changes cite the slayings in June of nine African Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church by a white man who displayed a segregationist flag on social media and drove a car with a Confederate flag license plate. The shooting led South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to stop flying the Confederate flag on the state capitol’s grounds.
Last month, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents voted to remove Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd’s name from the stadium of the system’s flagship university in College Park. Byrd, a former president of the school, was a segregationist who fought against black students attending the university. A commission in Baltimore is reviewing what to do with four monuments to the Confederacy that are on city grounds.
And state Sen. Ronald N. Young (D-Frederick) has pre-filed legislation to repeal Randall’s “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song and replace it with John T. White’s “Maryland, My Maryland,” a poem that spotlights the state’s scenery. Both can be sung to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius,” an old song from Germany. The tune is more widely known for its use in “O Tannenbaum” or, in English, “O Christmas Tree.”
Randall’s creation is “the only state song that calls for the overthrow of government,” Young said of the state’s current anthem. “It’s just not appropriate. . . . I’d just like a more uplifting song, one that is not so wrong.”
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) says he is opposed to a change in the state song and likened the effort to calls for removing the statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, author of the pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, from the grounds of the State House.
“It’s political correctness run amok,” Hogan said in an interview last week. “Where do we stop? Do we get rid of the George Washington statues out here and take down all the pictures from all the people from the Colonial era that were slave owners? Do we change the name of Washington County, Carroll County and Calvert County?
“You can’t change history, and we’re not going to be able to rewrite history,” Hogan said. “And I don’t think we ought to be changing any of that.”
The advisory panel noted that the first bill that passed to designate “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state anthem was vetoed by Gov. Harry W. Nice (R) in 1935. Four years later, the General Assembly passed another bill, which was signed by Gov. Herbert R. O’Conor (D).
At the time, the panel said, the political and racial climate was shifting in the United States. The panel said the embrace of the Confederate war anthem as the state song may have been fueled by a desire to “symbolically” challenge strides African Americans were trying to make.
The Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, a leading civil rights voice at the time, called the song “just a Rebel song.”
If Maryland does change or jettison its song, it would join a list of other states that have taken similar actions. Virginia lawmakers shelved “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” in 1997 because the anthem glorified slavery and used a pejorative word to describe African Americans.
Lawmakers in Kentucky tinkered with the lyrics of their state’s song, “My Old Kentucky Home,” in 1986.
And Florida lawmakers amended a couple of words of their state song, “Old Folks at Home (Swanee River),” in 1978 before doing a complete rewrite 30 years later.