Pressure is mounting on Maryland state leaders to remove a State House statue depicting one of the state’s foremost defenders of slavery, with a Democratic candidate for governor, the speaker of the Maryland House and a progressive group calling for its riddance Monday.
Benjamin Jealous, the former NAACP president who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018, called on Hogan to scrap the statue of former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote an 1857 majority opinion that upheld slavery and said blacks born in the country were not U.S. citizens.
Jealous criticized Hogan for once describing efforts to eliminate such memorials as “political correctness run amok,” and he vowed to work for “complete removal” of Confederate monuments in Maryland if he wins the governorship.
He delivered his remarks in Baltimore, where Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) earlier that day announced plans to remove four Confederate statues in that city.
Also on Monday, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in a Facebook post that “the time has come for Taney to come down.”
Alexandra Hughes, a spokeswoman for Busch, said the speaker’s decision was influenced by “growing tension over the last year or so,” including Saturday’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville and the racially motivated 2015 mass shooting at an African American church in Charleston, S.C.
The fate of the statue is in the hands of the four-person State House Trust board that oversees the use of the capital complex. The board is chaired by Hogan and is made up of Busch, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and Charles L. Edson, chair of the Maryland Historical Trust Board of Trustees. A majority vote would be required to remove the Taney statue.
In a statement, Miller said he prefers educating the public about Taney rather than getting rid of the monument, but he added that he would “not stand in the way” if Hogan wanted to remove it.
Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan — who condemned the protest in Charlottesville as “disgusting and vile” — said Monday that the governor is “willing to consider and discuss any proposed changes to monuments.”
“While we must be mindful not to scrub historical references that are difficult to confront, the use of these monuments as a rallying point for bigots and racists means that we must make the distinction between recognizing our history and glorifying dark chapters in our nation’s past,” Chasse said.
On Sunday, the progressive group Our Maryland launched an online petition calling on Hogan to support the removal of the Taney statue. By Monday, the organization had gathered more than 500 signatures.
The state erected a statue of Taney on the State House lawn in 1872. Responding to criticism of the monument, the State House Trust added interpretive plaques explaining the controversy over his divisive opinion and its place in the evolution of the nation’s stance toward slavery.
The state has also placed a statue of Thurgood Marshall, who was the first African American U.S. Supreme Court justice and a native of Baltimore, on the opposite side of the capital building. Additionally, the trust agreed last year to erect statues honoring abolitionists Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the State House.
Miller described the Marshall monument as a “very public and purposeful compromise to give balance to the State House grounds, recognizing our State has its own history of which we have much to be proud but that is also flawed.”
Similarly, Busch said he has “always considered Maryland’s State House grounds to reflect the evolutionary arch of history . . . the movement of our State over time toward a more perfect union.” But he added that “we can find a better way to honor history while lighting a path towards progress, equality and understanding.”
Our Maryland spokesman Pat Murray said the events in Charlottesville made it clear that the Taney statue needs to be removed from the State House. “The politics of the matter changes when you see people wearing neo-Nazi helmets in the streets of Charlottesville,” he said.
Jealous rejected the educational value of the Taney statue, saying the chief justice “wrote the purest statement of a racist ideology ever written in Supreme Court history” and that the events in Charlottesville “brought into clear relief the danger in these times of being ambiguous, of allowing two messages to be sent.”
He said the state should take down the Taney statue and use its metal to build one honoring Douglass, whom he described as a “Marylander who stood for all of us.”
The city of Frederick this year removed a bust of Taney in front of the Frederick City Hall after officials agreed the sculpture had to go.
Pugh said she has contacted companies about removing Confederate statues in Baltimore and placing them in Confederate cemeteries, but she noted that the city needs to seek permission from the Maryland Historical Trust and find money for the project. She did not announce a timeline for completing the plan.
Chasse said Hogan supports Pugh’s decision to “move the statues in Baltimore City to a place where they can be displayed in their appropriate historical context.” In 2015, the governor supported eliminating Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates in Maryland.