“I remember thinking: ‘How did this little boy get on this statue?’ ” Potter said. “We almost wanted to emulate him.”
Potter, 38, doesn’t want to emulate the young Confederate anymore. He’s among a group of Talbot County citizens and lawmakers seeking to have the statue removed from the courthouse in the wake of nationwide protests against police violence and white supremacy following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Talbot County Council President Corey W. Pack (R) introduced a resolution last month to remove the statue from its base — a resolution he expects will be amended at a public meeting later this month to remove the monument entirely. The council will hear public testimony at the meeting, which was moved to a high school for additional space to accommodate a large crowd amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pack called the monument a “distraction” that, in the wake of nationwide protests, reminds some citizens of “racism, division and bias.”
“You have to respect the feelings that people have,” he said. “I feel after watching and listening to demonstrations that this is the time.”
If the monument goes, its removal would follow years of debate over the fate of what’s thought to be the only Confederate monument in Maryland on state property.
The “Talbot Boys” memorial was dedicated in 1916 — more than half a century after the Civil War’s conclusion — partly through the efforts of Easton lawyer Joseph B. Seth, who sought to commemorate 84 soldiers from the county who fought for the Confederacy.
In a 1916 issue of the monthly publication Confederate Veteran, Seth wrote that the county had “just pride in her contribution of men to the Confederate cause.” A newspaper report from the time said it was to be dedicated on Confederate Memorial Day, an unofficial June holiday in Maryland, and both Northern and Southern veterans were welcome.
In a memoir Seth co-authored, he wrote that “the bulk of the slaves were devoted to their masters and their families, taking great interest in everything concerning them.” He continued: “The families were equally devoted to the slaves and with the whole Southland had the tenderest affection for the faithful old Mammies and Uncles.”
Talbot County Council member Pete Lesher (D) said Seth’s “cringeworthy” language showed the memorial cannot “be seen as anything other than imbued with racism.” He said he would draft an amendment to Pack’s resolution calling for it to be removed entirely.
“The people of Talbot County today are more and more seeing this as a blot on the county,” Lesher said. “They are seeing it for what it is: a racist emblem that they have to walk by on the way into a courthouse.”
The county has struggled with the memorial in the past.
In 2004, the debate wasn’t about whether to remove it but whether to add a statue nearby of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who was born enslaved in Talbot County but escaped to become its most famous native son. That statue was erected in 2011.
After some Confederate symbols came down following a 2015 mass shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., the Talbot County Council — including Pack — voted to leave the memorial be.
“We felt it would be disrespectful to the family members of those Confederate relatives still alive in Talbot County,” he said at the time.
Pack said he’s had a “change of heart.”
“As the heart changes, the mind must follow,” he said.
An online petition defending the memorial in 2015 called it a “wonderful piece of artwork” built “in a spirit of sectional reconciliation.”
“It is a piece of history and a splendid work of art that tells the story of brother vs. brother where North and South came together, the border state of Maryland,” the petition said. “We wish for it to remain in public view on the courthouse lawn.”
Talbot County Council member Frank Divilio (R), who proposed a replacement monument with a Union and a Confederate soldier at a meeting last month, did not return a request for comment. Council member Laura Price (R), who said at the meeting that defenders of the statue were “afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled or worse yet targeted,” also did not respond to a request for comment.
Talbot County resident Keith Watts, a retired labor attorney who worked on discrimination claims, said the memorial is like any other Confederate icon that has recently fallen or is slated to be removed, including a Jefferson Davis statue planned for removal at Kentucky’s state Capitol and changes coming to Mississippi’s state flag.
This week, statues of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Matthew Fontaine Maury, a U.S. naval officer who resigned his commission to work for the rebellion, came down in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy.
“The council has played kick-the-can with this,” Watts said. “There’s been a sea change in sentiment — in how we respect one another.”