When I think about the most significant action in Talbot County in 2022, the removal of the Talbot Boys Monument on the courthouse grounds to the Cross Keys Battlefield in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia comes readily to mind. It represented public recognition, amid fierce controversy, of a 130-year-old stain on the reputation and soul of the county. It epitomized after far too many years—spurred by the murder of George Floyd—community empathy for the hostile optics experienced daily and mercilessly by Talbot’s African American citizens.
While I understand that the Lakeside controversy and the recent Talbot County Council election may rank as seminal events in 2022, the removal of the distasteful Confederate monument signified the county’s choice of goodness over malice. It was the right thing to do. Public activism is now an enduring part of Talbot’s social geography.
Thoughts about the Talbot Boys evolved from recent news coverage of the removal of the Confederate Lieutenant General A.P. Hill Monument in Richmond, VA, the former capital of Confederacy and, up to recent years, the site of many statues representing the Lost Cause. At the beginning of the 20th century, Southern sympathizers decided to rewrite history and glorify the Civil War. Slavery was incidental. The effort was shrewd, whitewashing the evil of slavery and portraying a part of the country in a romanticized way– disregarding that it symbolized oppression and economic opportunism.
It was revisionist history at its worst. Not so ironically, its proponents viewed their efforts at rewriting history as the truth. And still do.
The A.P. Hill statue was the last remaining city-owned Confederate relic to be removed. Others remain in Richmond. During my years in the Maryland National Guard, I often trained at a Virginia post near Bowling Green named after General Hill. I didn’t bother to grasp the incongruity, if not the cross-purpose of American troops sharpening their military skills on a post named for a traitor.
It is likely that the congressional renaming commission will replace the tribute to Hill with one honoring a Union doctor and the first female army surgeon, Mary Edwards Walker. She also was the only woman to earn the Medal of Honor.
Virginia differs greatly from Maryland. It was all-in during the Civil War. Maryland, a border state, had mixed allegiance. When I traveled Monument Avenue in Richmond as a young man, I was startled, overwhelmed and, yes, impressed by the majesty and mystique of the Confederate monuments.
I knew then in a superficial way that the South was foreign to me. Its culture was steeped in subjugation of its Black residents. The monuments drove that point home. African Americans in Virginia understood that they still were regarded as second-class citizens. In light of its bigoted past, evident throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, the removal of Confederate monuments in Richmond is worthy of applause and admiration.
Talbot County, spurred by White violence against Blacks in Charleston, S.C. and Minneapolis, Minn., discarded its yoke of subservience to a sordid past by removing the Talbot Boys Monument. The Frederick Douglass Monument, also in front of the courthouse, represents tolerance and sensibility. It pays homage to a native son who escaped slavery in Talbot County to become a prominent and persuasive figure in the abolition movement.
The year 2022 is a memorable one for a county that opted for its better angels. It sought self-improvement. Its public facade no longer is tarnished by the embrace of slavery.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.