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The Star Democrat: Outcry over Talbot Boys statue growing

EASTON — As protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other victims of police brutality and Black Lives Matter rallies continue throughout the country, public concern over the Talbot Boys statue has grown louder and wider.

The statue depicts a Confederate soldier in the Civil War carrying the Confederate flag. Its prominent presence in downtown Easton, and its presence on Talbot County courthouse grounds opposite a statue commemorating abolitionist Frederick Douglass, has long stirred up controversy. But it has come under increased fire in recent weeks, and Talbot County Council has taken notice.

The Black Lives Matter rally in Easton on Saturday, June 6, concluded at the courthouse, and protesters left their signs against the statue symbolically. County Manager Andrew Hollis said the signs were cleaned up by the county’s facilities maintenance employee, and he said he assumed they were disposed after they were collected.

During the Talbot County Council meeting on Tuesday, June 9, many citizens called in during the portion of the meeting for public comment expressing displeasure about the statue and advocating for its removal.

“(The statue) honors slavery, racism and white supremacy and was created as white supremacy propaganda during the Jim Crow era in 1916,” one caller said. “This is an opportunity for the county to act and take a stand as they recognize the racial injustice that is happening in our country and even in the county, and that recognizing people who abused and fought for slavery is only a part of the problem. This is an opportunity for Talbot County to be a part of the solution.”

“It is insulting to the legacy of Frederick Douglass to have these two statues stand side-by-side,” said another caller, who was from Caroline County but grew up in Talbot. “This is absolutely unforgivable and must be changed immediately. The Talbot Boys statue has never been ethical. Shame on Talbot County to let stand this monument that honors 84 racist soldiers that defended the right of southern whites on black Americans’ property. The defense of this statue is an absolute defense of overt and systemic racism.”

After that second caller, council member Laura Price jumped in with a point of order, asserting that callers and commenters should be limited to Talbot County residents.

“She has spent time here, but she said she’s from Caroline County,” Price said. “So I just think that it’s more appropriate that any public comment and emails identify where they are from, just so that we are aware. And this is for Talbot County citizens, at least in my opinion.”

However, the Talbot County Council Meeting Protocols do not specify that public comment must be restricted to Talbot residents. Per the policy, as long as speakers either sign up prior to the meeting or sign in to speak, and follow the proper protocol of speaking for less than three minutes and stating their name and address, there’s no restriction for who can comment.

Council president Corey Pack issued a statement before the meeting’s close showing his support for removing the statue.

“It is no secret that this council as well as the prior council has been asked to relocate the Talbot Boys statue,” he said. “It is therefore my request that this Council considers a resolution to prohibit all statues depicting persons, signs or symbols of military action on the County Court House Grounds. The resolution would not prohibit monuments listing the names of Talbot County veterans of war.”

Councilman Pete Lesher also issued a statement during the meeting.

“On Saturday (June 6), we heard a call to revisit the Talbot Boys monument and its appropriateness on the courthouse square,” he said. “Since that time, we have received numerous constituent contacts on this subject, and more in the newspaper or on social media channels, most of them calling for its removal.

“We are reminded of the history of this monument, how it was erected not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but more than half a century later, at a height of overt racial discrimination in America,” he continued. “Its sponsors pointedly excluded memorializing Union soldiers from Talbot County, some of whom were black.

“However we revisit this discussion today, we must,” Lesher concluded. “We simply cannot ignore the issue. The time has come to remove it.”

The Facebook page ‘Save the Talbot Boys’ houses opinions of those in favor of the statue. Page administrators could not be reached for comment for this story. 1,103 users ‘like’ the page.

The page posted photos of the protesters signs left by the statue after the rally, saying “Blatant disrespect for history, but no destruction thankfully. Can people please call the county and ask for this trash to be removed?”

Comptroller Peter Franchot weighed in on the issue recently. On Monday, June 8, he tweeted “The Talbot Boys monument is a disgrace to one of our state’s most beautiful places. The monument has no value. It was, and is, nothing more than propaganda designed to romanticize white supremacy and legitimize an act of treason against the U.S. It’s time to bring it down.”

The Facebook page issued a lengthy response on Tuesday. The post argues that the statue is a significant representation of history, particularly local history. It says the family names listed on the monument are important to Talbot County history, and that the statue is important in representing the Civil War history of the U.S. being split and then coming back together.

A Facebook post with a survey about the statue on Thursday, June 11 in the Easton, Maryland Community Group page sparked a heated debate as well. More than 600 comments were left on the post.

Over the last few weeks, cities around the country have removed symbols honoring the confederacy and individuals associated with racism. Notably, in the last week, Richmond, Va. announced intentions to remove Confederate statues, notably the statue honoring Confederate general Robert E. Lee. And in Charlotte, the Carolina Panthers removed a statue of former owner Jerry Richardson, who was forced to sell the team in 2017 following controversy over previous racist and sexist acts.

The more of those have removed symbols from around the country, the more the Talbot Boys statue will come under fire.

“There will be future county council members in Talbot that will take this statue down,” a caller said during the County Council meeting. “There is a will to do this in this county and voters will remember. We can wait around all we want. You have an opportunity now to stand for something and to listen to black voices. I guess the question now is are you going to wait and let your successors do the work that you should have done years ago? Or are you going to take action?”

Follow me on Twitter @SethTow

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