Dare I say it? After years of enthusiastic debate, the issue of the Talbot Boys memorial is resolved. The best news? Everyone won.
Last week, I read with excitement that the funding was now secure to relocate the Talbot Boys memorial to Cross Keys Battlefield in Rockingham County, Virginia. While last minute glitches or delays remain possible, it is time for all to celebrate the resolution of a long debate. Soon, the Talbot Boys will make their way to their new home. I call that a win-win. Here’s why:
The history of the Talbot Boys will not be lost. Those interested in learning about the Talbot County men who chose to fight for the Confederacy will continue to be able to do so, both by accessing history books or by visiting the memorial, which will be an accessible three-and-a-half-hour drive away.
The “learning opportunity” inherent in this unique history is preserved. No history has been “cancelled,” and the distraction that the debate on moving the memorial created has been removed. In many ways, the history of the Talbot Boys will be more accessible after the memorial’s relocation.
The memorial has found a home free of controversy. Those who opposed relocating the memorial should see its preservation, including its careful relocation where it will be protected from vandals, and, more importantly, cease to be the object of debate, as a victory. It is likely that the long-term future of the memorial has been achieved.
Contrast the future of the Talbot Boys with that of the Robert E. Lee memorial that once stood in Charlottesville. That statue is being melted down into ingots for use in creating new public art. Our local preservationists prevented that from happening here.
A new, positive chapter of Talbot history has been written. Our county recognized the importance of racial justice and equity and relocated a memorial that had become an embodiment of racism. That characterization of the memorial is very much a reflection of our own times and should not be assumed to be a judgment on the motivations of those who erected the memorial in the early 20th century. The history of those Talbot citizens can be judged on its own merits. The action of relocating the memorial was not a repudiation of them. Instead, it should be viewed as a step forward towards ensuring that justice in this county is accessible to everyone and that nothing at the courthouse suggests otherwise.
Talbot residents of color and all those embracing racial equity and justice were heard. The County Council responded to the pleas for the memorial to be relocated. In so doing, they demonstrated responsiveness to part of our community that historically has felt underrepresented. The experience of the Talbot Boys resolution will further empower this community. That is what democracy is all about—government listening to and responding to everyone.
The distraction of the debate on the memorial is gone. Now the council can increase its focus on things like making our county a better place to live, focusing on a response to climate change, and dealing with the pandemic. There is a lot of work to do. Every minute freed up by the resolution of the Talbot Boys debate, is welcomed.
I am certain that some of those on both sides of our now-concluded debate are not entirely happy with the outcome. Some would have liked to see the memorial destroyed. Some supported modifying it. And others just wanted it left alone. The compromises inherent in the final resolution were good ones. Although not everyone got everything they wanted, everyone got a win. And Talbot County got a huge win as it stepped into the future by finally ending an acrimonious, divisive debate.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and other subjects.