A measure to remove the Talbot Boys was introduced earlier this summer amid nationwide demonstrations against Confederate imagery following the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody. On Tuesday, sitting in the courthouse in Easton, yards from the memorial, the Talbot County Council voted 3 to 2 to keep the statue in the same place it has stood for 104 years.
Talbot County Council President Corey W. Pack (R) said the vote was “disappointing.” He had voted against an attempt to remove the statue in 2015 but changed his mind and co-sponsored a resolution to remove it after Floyd’s killing.
“You shake your head,” he said. “You kind of hope that there will be another day. . . . I’m sure the statue will not go away.”
Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP and a longtime opponent of the statue, blamed the vote on “three racist council members” who attributed their votes to limited public input during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s a bunch of surface-level excuses that continue to uphold systemic racism in Talbot County,” he said.
Council members Chuck F. Callahan, Frank Divilio and Laura E. Price, who are Republicans, voted to keep the memorial. They did not respond to requests for comment.
At the meeting, Callahan said he “thought very hard in the last couple months” but did not feel comfortable making a decision about the statue, especially during the pandemic.
“This should be in the hands of the community and not our hands,” he said. “I feel very uncomfortable with something that’s happened 155 years ago, and I’m making a decision on whether this thing should go or not. I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that should be my decision.”
Divilio said he was concerned about voting on the measure during the pandemic.
“I’m absolutely committed to this goal,” he said during the meeting. “This piece of legislation has been brought in front of the public at a time we’ve not been able to open up to the public as we have in the past.”
Price voiced similar concerns, saying the council is considering only emergency legislation during the pandemic.
“This is not your ordinary piece of legislation,” she said. “If the statue is simply removed, there will never be a statue that represents a very complex period in the county’s history.”
Pack, the county council president, said using the pandemic to explain the decision was a “farce.” Although no audience members can be physically present at council meetings during the pandemic, he said 28 callers at a public hearing on the statue last month spoke against it, while four spoke in favor of keeping it. A petition for its removal garnered 300 signatures, he said.
“It’s disingenuous and disgraceful to try to use covid-19 as cover,” Pack said, referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
After the vote, protesters outside chanted “No justice, no peace!” Pack adjourned the meeting early, saying: “We understand that citizens are quite upset about the earlier vote taken today.”
Pete Lesher, the council’s only Democrat and a co-sponsor of the resolution that would have removed the statue, said he spoke with protesters outside. They were not in the mood for further debate, he said.
“Even if we’d had to take this out an extra week or two, it was straining their patience,” Lesher said. “That is not going to be satisfactory.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said he was “deeply disappointed” in the vote and urged the council to reconsider.
“The monument . . . serves as a constant and painful reminder to residents of the ugly, hateful legacy of slavery and those who fought with the Confederacy to preserve it,” he said in a statement. “As such, it is wholly incompatible with the mission of the Talbot County Circuit Court to provide equal justice under the law.”
The statue, which depicts a soldier with a Confederate flag draped over one shoulder, was erected partly through the efforts of Easton lawyer Joseph B. Seth, who said the county had “just pride in her contribution of men to the Confederate cause.”
In a memoir Seth co-authored, he wrote that “the bulk of the slaves were devoted to their masters and their families,” which “were equally devoted to the slaves and with the whole Southland had the tenderest affection for the faithful old Mammies and Uncles.”
Len N. Foxwell, a Talbot County resident and chief of staff for Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the vote, which he said preserves a monument to white supremacy.
“This at a time when communities across our country — including onetime Confederate citadels like Richmond — are doing the right thing and removing their own monuments to hate,” he said. “I think this is something that is going to haunt them politically and personally for the rest of their careers.”
Erin Cox and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.