A Maryland bill that originally would have required the state to destroy a statue of U.S. Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney located outside the State House in Annapolis would now merely mandate moving the sculpture to the state archives.
Del. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore), who sponsored the legislation and testified in support of it Wednesday, said the eradication requirement was a drafting error. She has replaced the provision with language calling for the statue to be moved into storage.
“It was always supposed to be that way,” she said at a hearing before the House Health and Government Affairs Committee.
Taney, a divisive figure in American history, wrote the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, which said slavery was constitutional and that blacks born in the United States could not be U.S. citizens.
“We should not celebrate this history of racism,” Carter said. “You can preserve it in a dark room in the state archives, but to have [the statue] at the front door of the State House is the wrong thing to do.”
Carter’s bill met with no opposition Wednesday, although some committee members and witnesses suggested that adding context to the statue might be a more appropriate action than moving it out of sight.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-Baltimore County), recalling a trip he once took to Berlin, noted that Germans have placed reminders throughout the city to teach people about Nazi atrocities. “I thought it was a very instructive way of approaching it,” he said. “They weren’t denying it. They weren’t erasing it. But they left it out there and reframed it.”
The effort to take down Taney’s statue comes amid increasing demands nationwide for the removal of symbols that many people consider to be racist.
Last year, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed legislation to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds after a racially charged mass shooting at a historical black church in Charleston.
In Maryland, advocates have called for the removal of two Confederate statues in Baltimore and a Taney bust outside Frederick City Hall. Others have pushed to change the state song, which disparages northerners and Abraham Lincoln while glorifying the Confederate cause.
The state’s Motor Vehicle Administration last year announced that it would recall speciality license plates bearing an image of the Confederate battle flag.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) advocated for the move, but he said would not support other efforts, such as removing Taney’s statue. He compared attempts to eliminate such reminders of racism in Maryland to “political correctness run amok.”
Carter’s legislation comes in response to a petition from University of Maryland student Colin Byrd, an African American who successfully lobbied last year to remove the name of Harry Clifton “Curley” Byrd from his school’s football stadium in College Park.
Byrd, a past president of the university, was a segregationist. Critics say he was responsible for the race-based rejection from the university of Thurgood Marshall, who would become the Supreme Court’s first African American justice.
The U-Md. Board of Regents voted 12-5 in December to rename the football arena Maryland Stadium.
Colin Byrd testified Wednesday, pushing back against critics who have questioned whether removing the Taney statue would set a precedent for eliminating tributes to other historical figures such as George Washington, who owned slaves.
“A person’s character should be considered along with the position he held,” he said, adding that Washington is not principally known as a slave holder.