I read the recent letter to the editor and the recent editorial of The Sunday Star) and wanted to share my thoughts regarding the Talbot Boys statue.
The readers may recall that the Frederick Douglass statue, as originally proposed, included a larger statue as well as a large paved area with sign boards and other educational text describing the life of Frederick Douglass.
At the time, I was president of the Talbot County Council and I recall that we had a consensus to build a statue honoring Frederick Douglass.
The basic problem was that the monument, as proposed at the time, was too large and the proposed impervious paving that would have potentially damaged the adjacent Wye Oak tree. In addition, the scale of the proposed statue and other educational placards was simply too large for the courthouse grounds.
The Frederick Douglass Honor Society was formed to lead the project and to assist the county council in honoring Frederick Douglass.
Our solution back then was to allow for a new statue that would approximate the size and scale of the existing statue located on the opposite lawn area of the new Frederick Douglass statue. Our design consultant, and the Frederick Douglass Honor Society, recommended that it be scaled to the size of the other existing monuments.
In addition, we were renovating the Talbot County Free Library and we thought that a room dedicated to Frederick Douglass would certainly be appropriate and would give visitors to the area a place to go and study about or learn more about the life of Frederick Douglass. The library is directly across the street from the courthouse, so it was certainly an appropriate place for anyone who visited the statue.
We decided to dedicate the old Maryland Room as the space that would offer reference materials, etc., for anyone interested in learning about Frederick Douglass.
After all, one of his most important contributions was his message regarding the importance of education and learning to set one free. This room was subsequently dedicated the Frederick Douglass Reading Room and exists to provide visitors and scholars with valuable reading materials and other resources describing the life of Frederick Douglass.
Turning our attention to the Talbot Boys, I realize that the statue may offend some. The history of this area, however, included families split between the North and the South. Like it or not, it is part of our history here in Talbot County.
The statue of Frederick Douglass was a triumph for many people who thought that Talbot County should honor its most famous son. The Frederick Douglass statue stands in proud contrast to the Talbot Boys statue, and we cannot deny our history nor change what happened.
When I traveled to East Germany in college, I visited one of the Nazi Concentration Camps. I was sickened by what I saw and yet I am glad that these camps were preserved so that we would know what happened in World War II, lest we forget the history of what happened. Likewise, here in Talbot County, our past tells a story.
In summation, I suppose we could follow the trend of political correctness and remove the Talbot Boys statue. The editorial board has expressed its obvious opinion to remove the Talbot Boys statue.
I would hope, however, that we would pause to consider the contrast it represents. The victory of the life of Frederick Douglass cannot be viewed in proper context without the contrasting fight to end slavery and the victory of a great education.
The Talbot Boys statue reminds us that the Civil War tore families apart and young men went to war and died fighting against, in some cases, members of their own family. If it were removed from the courthouse grounds, the observer might never understand that our county faced an internal struggle of its own during the Civil War.
This struggle can likewise be viewed at St. Stephens Church in the village of Unionville, where African-American soldiers are buried, who fought for the Union and who returned to Talbot after the war.
There are so many stories to tell, some happy and some sad.
These monuments are made to remind us of our historical past, and we should not be so arrogant to think that we can correct the mistakes of history by removing the monuments of the past.
Dirck Bartlett is serving in his third term as a member of the Talbot County Council. This has been reprinted with Mr. Bartlett’s permission from the Star-Democrat from July 1.
Letters to Editor
M.M. Goodwin says
As an Eastern Shore historian, and as a person who lives here, I completely agree with Dirck Bartlett. What happened, happened. That cannot be taken back, nor should it be erased. It is vital to see, know and understand history in the context of the times. Erasing from our sight or memory all that we now recognize as very wrong does not help in understanding and appreciating how far we have come, nor explain our path yet to reach even better goals in our personal and community stories.
Marshall Barroll says
I also would second the opinion of what Mr Bartlett originally submitted to Easton’s paper. I would likewise affirm Mr Goodwin’s opinion of understanding “history in the context of the times.” Well stated. Eighteen Sixty One was a tumultuous snapshot in time of Maryland’s history, and people had to decide which side they were on and make that decision quickly… to leave or to stay. Staying, and having Condederate sympathies could get you locked up in Ft McHenry and exiled from Maryland for life/accused of treason. (See Civil War Trails, John Leeds Barroll, my great great grandfather. ) You had to be careful what you said, thought or wrote. There were arguments at the time in that momentous year of 1861 that both sides had their merits, and both sides were equally convinced that their side was in the right. It’s easy for us all now in 2015 to armchair quarterback the legitimacy of the Condederacy when all the history books since then were written by the winners and have denounced it’s causes ad infinitum. To put it another way, the southern cause seemed like a good idea at the time for many people in Maryland, and not just the Talbot Boys, or hundreds from Kent County, but thousands from the Western Shore Counties bordering Chesapeake Bay. All so easy now to second guess what they considered at the time to be honorable, patriotic, and reasonable decisions. To honor those decisions, right or wrong, Talbot County took up a collection and accepted donations in 1916, for statues to be erected on the Courthouse grounds, one each for Federal and Condederate veterans. Very little was contributed at all for the Federal war vets, but apparently more than enough was for the Condederate statue. Those are the facts, and that is why there is no Union monument. (Too bad they couldn’t have had a 2 -sided monument like we have in Kent Co.)
After speaking with Mr Bartlett of Talbot County, I have concluded that his simple and basic solution will satisfy all parties. I would therefore likewise suggest: First, do not take down the 100 year old mint condition and attractive Talbot Boys statue. Secondly, take up another collection and accept donations from around the County to have an equally representative statue dedicated to the Union vets. Thirdly, have it erected in a reasonable location out near the facade of the building, along with the other two. Very simple. Everybody’s happy and we can stop the name-calling, and further devisiveness that has likewise gone rampant in this country. To take down just the Condederate statue, and leave Mr Douglass’ statue where it is, just further widens this ever growing chasm. To take down just the “Talbot Boys” just starts a chain reaction of political correctness run amok once more. That means that next, Taney’s statue comes down in Annapolis, the Maryland State Song gets thrown in the firepit and is substituted with a “poem,” and then the Maryland Flag gets replaced, because of it’s historic association with the slave owning Calvert family. (That would be a tragedy since it is easily the most beautiful flag in the US.)
This domino effect would eventually have to lead to the US flag itself which was flying over every state capitol pre-1861. Obviously before any of this happens, I am certain the plaque recognizing my great grandfather at Kent County’s Courthouse would be long gone. Everyone in this state should just take a deep breath, count to 20, and certain of us should think about what possible good there is in trying to wrongfully revise history. Folks that want equal representation down there at the Courthouse- just chip in, build a second statue and all will be well in Talbot, at least until the next historic symbol comes under fire.