STATE SONGS are the kind of artifacts that tend to get attention only when they cause embarrassment. Just ask Virginia, which endured a trial almost 20 years long trying to find a replacement after “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was retired because of its racist lyrics. Now up is Maryland, where there is a renewed push to find an alternative to the off-key lyrics of the state song, which includes a call to arms for the Confederacy.
A state advisory panel that included historians, music scholars and a poet have called for major changes to “Maryland, My Maryland.” Written in 1861 by Baltimore native James Ryder Randall, the song refers to Abraham Lincoln as “the despot” and urges Maryland to join the Confederacy against the “Northern scum.” It’s hard to see why there would be any affection for a song that, as one writer to the editorial page put it, insults Maryland citizens by calling them “cowards for failing to join Virginia in secession.”
Nonetheless, there is resistance to change. Six previous efforts to change or replace “Maryland, My Maryland” failed, and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) vowed to fight the panel’s recommendation, calling it “political correctness run amok.” We agree that history can’t be changed, and to answer the governor’s tendentious rhetorical question, we wouldn’t get rid of statues of George Washington because he was a slave owner. But distinctions can and should be made depending upon case and circumstance.
“Maryland, My Maryland” doesn’t represent the feelings of Marylanders, nor did it do so when the song was written. Lest Mr. Hogan forget, Maryland remained part of the Union, and Mr. Randall represented a dissident view even at the time. Moreover, the adoption of the song as the state standard occurred not during the Civil War but during the late 1930s, when Confederate war anthems were seen by some as a symbolic way to challenge the progress of African Americans.
The state anthem clearly needs an overhaul. The panel has outlined a variety of sensible recommendations — including substituting lyrics or replacing the song. We urge state lawmakers in the upcoming General Assembly to act on this issue.