Speakers at a Saturday, June 19, rally note the designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday and urge the Talbot County Council to move the Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn.
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Although a federal judge may have the final say, advocates for moving the Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn and those who want it to remain voiced their opinions Tuesday night, June 8.
The issue has been the predominant topic of public comments over the past year as the Talbot County Council met virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic and remained so for the council’s first in-person meeting in more than a year.
For those who want to Move Talbot’s Confederate Monument, the monument honors a failed, traitorous rebellion against the United States by those who wanted to maintain and extend slavery. The young flag bearer atop the monument holds a Confederate battle flag and the monument is dedicated “To the Talbot Boys C.S.A.,” the Confederate States of America.
The monument is a reminder of a time when people were enslaved, mistreated, raped, and murdered simply because of the color of their skin, move supporters say. That message of racism and white supremacy should not sit outside the Talbot County Circuit Court, where justice without prejudice is expected.
For those who want to Preserve Talbot History, the monument honors Talbot men who joined the Confederacy to fight against unconstitutional injustices in the county and Maryland at the hands of federal troops that occupied the state during the Civil War.
The monument should remain on the courthouse lawn, where it has stood for more than 100 years, envisioned during the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, remain supporters say.
A third group, the Union Talbot Boys, is raising funds for a monument honoring Talbot’s Union veterans, who vastly outnumbered those who joined the Confederacy. A Union monument had been proposed in 1913, but the effort lost impetus as a result of World War I.
A Confederate monument on the Talbot County courthouse lawn in Easton is racist and unconstitutional, said civil rights groups who filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to remove the Jim Crow-era statue.
The Maryland Office of the Public Defender and the Talbot County NAACP branch argue in the newly filed lawsuit that by keeping up the Confederate statue — a century-old monument to county residents who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War and the last Confederate monument on public land in Maryland — county officials are violating both state and federal laws.
The plaintiffs want the statue removed from the grounds of the Talbot County Courthouse.
The lawsuit represents the latest step in a years-long effort by activists to remove the statue from the courthouse grounds. After Talbot County Council members rejected a proposal to move the statue last year, rallies calling for the removal the Confederate monument continued. At a Wednesday press conference, the lawsuit’s plaintiffs said repeated rejections from county officials forced them to take legal action.
The ACLU of Maryland, alongside Crowell & Moring LLP, an international law firm based in Washington, D.C., is representing the plaintiffs in the case.
Dana Vickers Shelley, the executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, said Wednesday that both the county courthouse and the statue sit on the grounds of a former slave market.
“It is beyond time for this racist symbol of violence and oppression to be removed,” Vickers Shelley said.
“The Talbot Boys statue says just this: ‘In this building, white people are given priority over Black people;’ and ‘Justice for Black people means something different than what Justice means for white people means.’ To view it differently is to ignore objective fact,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs argue that the presence of the monument on the courthouse grounds violates the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection of laws. The Talbot Boys statue’s location is “facially discriminatory,” the lawsuit reads.
“In short, the statue says symbolically no less clearly than were it emblazoned on the front entrance to the courthouse that Black people do not enjoy the ‘equal protection of the laws,’” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit notes that roughly 12.8% of Talbot County’s more than 37,000 residents are Black.
“That any government in the United States would continue to maintain the symbolism of white supremacy and promote a legacy of racial subjugation should shock the conscience,” the complaint reads. “That Talbot County does so on a courthouse lawn — a place of prominence that holds itself out as the seat of justice in the county; a place that county citizens pay for and maintain with tax dollars, including the tax dollars of its Black citizens who are overtly denigrated and humiliated by the statue — only compounds the unconscionability of the statue and illuminates its illegality.”
Kisha Petticolas, an assistant public defender in Talbot County and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said she has to walk past the statue on a daily basis for her work. Petticolas, who is Black, said the monument is a painful reminder of “hate, oppression and white supremacy” to both herself and her clients.
“My clients who are walking into the courthouse, hoping to be given a fair shot at justice, are walking onto a courthouse lawn that still celebrates the Confederacy,” Petticolas said. “It is beyond time for this statue to be removed from the courthouse grounds.”
In addition to violating the 14th Amendment, plaintiffs argue that county officials are violating other federal laws and Maryland’s own constitution by keeping the statue in place in front of the courthouse.
Richard Potter, the president of the Talbot County NAACP and a plaintiff, said his organization has been asking county council members to remove the statue since after the 2015 murder of nine Black people during Bible study by a white supremacist in Charleston, South Carolina.
That effort was rebuffed by council members, who have also rejected subsequent efforts. Potter noted that calls to remove the statue were revived after the murder of George Floyd last year, but even amid a wave of Confederate monument removals across the country, county council members voted 3-2 against removing the Talbot Boys statue.
“The council left us with no other choice but to take this action,” Potter said Wednesday. “We have waited long enough.”
In voting to keep the monument up last year, the council majority said the fate of the Talbot Boys statue should be decided by community members instead of the county government.
“This should be in the hands of the community, and not our hands,” Council Vice President Charles F. Callahan III (R), who voted to keep the statue in place, said at the time.
Council President Corey W. Pack (R) and Councilman Peter Lesher (D) voted to remove the monument, while the other Republicans on the council, Laura E. Price and Frank Divilio, voted to keep the statue.
Callahan did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Confederate monuments were removed from public grounds in Maryland and across the United States last year amid widespread protests against systemic racism and police brutality. In one of his final acts as Wicomico County executive before his death last year, Bob Culver (R) removed a Confederate marker in Salisbury.
During their 2021 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers voted to repeal “Maryland, My Maryland,” with its pro-Confederate lyrics, as the official state song.
Read the full complaint here:1-main
By Bennett Leckrone
For Ryan Ewing, the debate over removing a Confederate statue from the Talbot County courthouse lawn is personal: One of his family members is among those memorialized on the monument.
Ewing, a public defender who grew up in Talbot County, spoke to dozens of residents at a rally to bring down the statue last week. He told protesters at the Nov. 10 rally that the monument’s continued presence at the courthouse flies in the face of the United States justice system’s promise of fair trials.
“We ensure the appearance of fairness in every way that we can,” Ewing said. “It’s what we do in our justice system. And my question to everyone is: Does the presence of this statue give any of my clients the appearance that they will get a fair trial?”
The monument includes a statue of a soldier holding a Confederate battle flag. That flag has long been used to represent southern heritage, according to the Anti-Defamation League, but is sometimes also used as a symbol of racism and white supremacy.
It stands adjacent to a statue of Frederick Douglass, the prominent abolitionist who was once jailed in Talbot County while attempting to escape slavery.
Ewing said he won’t miss his family’s name on the monument if it’s moved from where it stands outside of the county courthouse. He prefers to memorialize his family members who fought in other wars, like his great uncle who was shot down over occupied France during World War II.
Talbot County Council members voted to keep the Confederate statue on the county courthouse’s grounds earlier this year — but for local advocates and residents, the fight to bring down the monument is far from over.
As county council members were meeting last Tuesday, dozens of residents crowded the lawn of the courthouse to demand the removal of the century-old monument that memorializes county residents who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.
The Confederate monument has been a flash point in the county for years, with residents clashing over the memorial’s meaning and message. Those who want the statue to stay say the memorial isn’t meant to perpetuate a racist message, but opponents argue the statue’s presence is an ugly reminder of the county’s history of slavery and segregation.
According to data from the U.S. Census, roughly 12.8% of the county’s population is Black. The county’s population has been steadily increasing over the past decade, and it’s electoral makeup is changing as well: former vice president Joe Biden narrowly won Talbot County, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to win the county in more than 50 years.
At the protest, county residents homed in on the Confederacy’s connection to slavery in demanding the monument’s removal, arguing that the statue’s presence at the courthouse is inappropriate.
Keith Watts, a retired labor attorney, told protesters that the monument stands on the grounds of a former slave market, and said the Confederate symbol shouldn’t be allowed on grounds where families were split up forever.
He also addressed criticism of the movement to remove the statue, wherein advocates are accused of attempting to erase or censor history.
“I’m not advocating erasing history,” Watts said. “I’m advocating relocation.”
JoAnn Asparagus, a longtime magistrate for the Caroline County Circuit Court, noted that some who oppose the statue’s removal charge that slavery wasn’t the main reason for the Confederacy’s split from the Union.
“I don’t care whether it was the main reason, second or third,” Asparagus said. “It was a reason.”
Others pointed to Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” as evidence linking the Confederacy to systemic racism and slavery. In that speech, Stephens said the “cornerstone” and foundation of the Confederacy was slavery and racial inequality.
“There are those who claim that removing that monument changes history,” Michael Pullen, the longtime Talbot County attorney, said after reading a portion of Stephens’ speech to the protesters. “I wish we could erase the 400 years of slavery, and the kidnapping, rape, torture, death, murder, the horror and terrorism that followed. I wish we could erase all of that by taking that statue down.”
As Confederate monuments were toppled across the country amid a wave of protests against systemic racism and police brutality earlier this year, Talbot County Council members narrowly decided to keep the monument on the courthouse lawn.
Council members rejected a proposal to remove the monument in a 3-2 vote at an August meeting. In voting to keep the monument up, Republican council members said the Confederate monument’s fate should ultimately rest in the hands of community members.
“This should be in the hands of the community, and not our hands,” Council Vice President Charles F. Callahan III (R) said in rejecting the resolution.
The contested vote came amid pressure from state and federal officials to remove the monument. U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) and Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) had both publicly called on county council members to remove the monument.
Republican Council President Corey W. Pack, who led the charge in attempting to remove the monument, was disappointed in the resolution’s failure. At the time, he warned that having a confederate monument outside of the county courthouse sends the wrong message to community members.
“I do not support the Talbot Boys statue remaining on the courthouse lawn,” Pack said in August. “It is not appropriate to keep that symbol on the courthouse lawn.”
Pack and Peter Lesher (D) voted to remove the monument, but the other Republicans on the council, Laura E. Price, Frank Divilio and Callahan, voted to keep the statue up.
The debate over the memorial isn’t a new one for county residents: In 2015, the county council voted to keep the statue after the local NAACP campaigned to remove it. At the time, Pack said the Confederate monument should stay on the courthouse grounds, arguing that removing it would be “disrespectful to the family members” of the soldiers memorialized.
Pack’s reversal and recent drive to remove the monument came after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis earlier this year. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests over police brutality and led to a renewed conversation about whether Confederate monuments should stand on public property.
In one of his final acts as Wicomico County Executive before his death, Bob Culver (R) removed a Confederate marker in Salisbury in June. The movement among local governments to remove Confederate monuments has continued in recent months: Just two weeks ago, officials in Fairfax County, Va., ordered the removal of several Confederate markers and memorials from their county courthouse.
Asparagus, the magistrate, told the crowd outside of the Talbot County Courthouse that Mississippians had voted to remove a Confederate symbol from their state flag during the Nov. 3 election. She encouraged county residents to continue to push council members for the statue’s removal.
“They don’t go down easy,” Asparagus said.
Richard Potter, the president of the Talbot County NAACP, said he tried to convene a meeting between advocates and county council members in late October. County council members rejected his request, Potter said, because they didn’t want to discuss the monument publicly.
Pack said at an Oct. 27 meeting that the Talbot County Council hadn’t met with the NAACP in roughly five years. While Lesher and Pack weren’t opposed to meeting with Potter’s group, Price, Divilio and Callahan said they weren’t ready to convene a workgroup.
“We know that this is not a finished, done deal,” Price said. “I don’t want anybody to think that we’re just digging in and we’re not continuing to talk with members of the community and leaders in the community.
Lesher told Maryland Matters that other council members thought the next step in dealing with the memorial was to encourage constituents to meet with them one-on-one instead of hosting public debates or workshops.
“I personally don’t see what’s wrong with convening a workshop,” Lesher said. “But I’m willing to work with whatever will give us a path forward. If that’s what will move us forward, I’ll work with that.”
Callahan said at the Oct. 27 meeting that he wants the next phase of debate over the monument to start with one-on-one conversation. He said he wants to “iron some things out” in private to have a more informed conversation during future public meetings.
Price said some county residents might not be comfortable sharing their views on the Confederate monument on public record, noting that a meeting with a majority of the county council must be public record under the Maryland Open Meetings Act.
“Speaking individually, one-on-one, I believe is going to be a lot more productive at this time,” she said.
Potter accused council members of stalling the conversation about the Confederate monument instead of addressing it head on, and vowed to continue pushing for the removal of the monument.
“Nothing has been done,” Potter said. “I think these are all stall tactics, to not … address the issue. And we’re going to keep pressing on.”
Potter said he thinks the monument will hamper Talbot County’s efforts to modernize and grow moving forward, and said he thinks the time has come for officials to take another look at removing the statue.
“I think it has its place in our history,” Potter said. “But the place of it being on the courthouse lawn is no longer. It was there to send the message of hate. It was there to scare Black people. And that’s not our community anymore.”
By Bennett Leckrone
The county council can vote Tuesday night on the latest effort to remove the “Talbot Boys” from the courthouse green.
Resolution 290, introduced by two of the five council members, calls for the removal of the statue of a young flag bearer carrying the battle flag of the rebel Army of Northern Virginia. As introduced, the resolution would allow the base, containing the names of Talbot County men who fought against the United States, to remain.
An amended resolution has been introduced by Councilman Pete Lesher and Council President Corey Pack, who introduced the initial resolution. The amended resolution calls for the removal of the entire monument and removes language that would have banned depictions of soldiers.
Lesher also plans to introduce two amendments during Tuesday night’s meeting, according to the agenda.
One would change language concerning the statue’s relocation to have the monument safely stored in the care of the county “until a place for its ultimate relocation can be identified and prepared.”
The second would establish a restricted county fund to receive any private contributions toward the cost of removing the monument.
During a July 28 public hearing on the resolution, the overwhelming majority of those calling into the meeting of the Talbot County Council urged members to completely remove the monument.
The council also was given a petition with 30-plus pages of signatures of people calling for the Talbot Boys to be removed from the courthouse green. A video entitled “I am Talbot County” also was submitted into the record.
“Statues are not how history is taught. It’s not about erasing history, but about what history to glorify,” one caller said. “What we do not support is a monument glorifying the Confederacy.”
Another caller cited a community survey in which 63% of respondents said racism is an issue in Talbot County.
“The Confederacy should not be glorified and that’s what the Talbot Boys statue does,” another caller said.
“This isn’t the first time the removal of the monument has been discussed. I hope it will be the last,” he said. “The question now is what side of history do you want to be a part of.”
“To commemorate is to celebrate” and the statue symbolizes racism and slavery, another caller said.
David Montgomery disagreed.
“The monument is to soldiers of Talbot County, not to slavery, not to the Confederacy,” he said.
Montgomery argued that it was highly unlikely that Talbot’s soldiers were fighting to preserve slavery.
Paul Callahan argued that Talbot’s rebels were fighting against Lincoln’s unconstitutional actions during the war against the secessionists.
“During the Civil War, what was done in Maryland was unconstitutional, unlawful, and brutal,” Callahan said, citing martial law, the suspension of habeas corpus, and the arrests of thousands of Marylanders suspected of Southern sympathies.
But Benjamin Rubenstein noted that Talbot’s rebel soldiers fought for the Confederate States of America.
“Even if they didn’t own slaves, they fought to protect slavery,” he said. “There’s no place for racism and white supremacy” on the public square.
Larrier Walker agreed that the fact that someone fought in a war could not be separated from “what they fought for.”
“Where in Germany are there statues or memorials to Hitler or the Nazis?” he asked. “There are none. To African-Americans and others, the Talbot Boys are just like Hitler and the Nazis.”
Henry Herr, who circulated the petition for the statue’s removal, noted the seceding states went to war against the U.S. in order to preserve slavery.
“The vast majority of historians have proven it time and time again,” he said.
“This symbol is a scourge of Talbot County,” Herr said. “Stand up for the minorities in your community who have been begging you to take it down.”
One caller said he was related to 10% of the names on the Talbot Boys monument.
He noted that the monument has 84 names, but many times that number from Talbot County fought for the United States.
The “time has come to remove” the monument and show that “Talbot County does not hold racism as a central tenet,” he said.
Others noted that the courthouse green was the site of the county’s slave auctions, where the KKK met in the 1880s, and where thousands gathered — just a few years after the Talbot Boys monument was erected — in an attempt to lynch a black man accused of sexually assaulting a white girl.
Keith Watts said the statue stands on hallowed ground — the site where thousands of Talbot’s slaves were brought to auction, where families were torn apart, “sold on the very spot that that statue stands.”
“Those people have no voice now. They need to be heard down through the ages,” Watts said. “The weight of history is on you tonight. The eyes of the nation and world are on you tonight. If Mississippi can do this, Talbot County can do this.”