ANNAPOLIS, Md. — After decades of debate, legislators are finally sensing strong support for repealing Maryland’s state song, a Civil War-era call to arms for the Confederacy against “Northern scum” that refers to President Abraham Lincoln as a despot.
“Maryland, My Maryland,” set to the traditional seasonal tune of “O, Tannenbaum,” was written as a poem in 1861 by James Ryder Randall and adopted as the state song in 1939. Lawmakers have tried to replace it since 1974. This year’s nationwide protests against racial injustice may have made the difference.
“Confederate-sympathizing language is not representative of who we are as a state any longer,” said House Speaker Adrienne Jones, who became the first Black person and first woman to hold the leadership post last year. She’s confident a repeal will finally pass in the session that begins in January.
“This session, we will pass legislation to repeal the state song so we can better reflect our current values of unity, diversity and inclusion,” the Democrat said in a statement. “We have come too far as a state and as a country to continue to embrace symbols of hate and division.”
Maryland was a border state in 1861, and many of its residents at the time sympathized with Randall’s call to secede from the Union. He wrote it as he was distraught over the shooting of a friend during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore on their way to Washington.
The song begins with a hostile reference to Lincoln: “The despot’s heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!” It ends with a call for the state to stand up to the Union:
“She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!”
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, has sponsored previous measures targeting the song, and is trying again. She said she’s “cautiously optimistic” 2021 will be the year.
Previous attempts to change it have stalled over disagreements about finding a replacement. This time, sponsors are trying to avoid that debate by repealing it, but not replacing it.
“The challenge has been in the past acknowledging our history while also wanting to fix it and remove the offensive parts of our history,” Kagan said. “We can’t keep brushing this under the carpet and ignoring it.”
Younger Marylanders and sporting institutions have pushed for change.
In 2017, the University of Maryland marching band announced it would no longer play “Maryland, My Maryland” before football games. This year, Pimlico Race Course, home to the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore that’s part of horse racing’s Triple Crown, scrapped its tradition of playing the song before the race.
Other legacies of the Confederacy have been removed in Maryland, and around the nation.
Days after violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Maryland officials removed from the Capitol grounds a statue of Roger Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court justice whose 1857 Dred Scott decision upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African-Americans.
And this year, a panel including Jones voted to remove a plaque that honored the Civil War’s Union and Confederate soldiers and showed the U.S. flag and Confederate flag crossed.
Mississippi adopted a magnolia symbol as it replaced the last state flag in the U.S. with the Confederate battle emblem. Virginia removed from its capitol the busts and a statue honoring Confederate generals and officials, including a bronze statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.