A delicate symbolic balance

Tale of two states: Maryland's approach seems even wiser in the wake of South Carolina's trials.

July 06, 2000

THE Ku Klux Klan demonstrated on Lawyer's Mall recently steps away from the statue of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall -- and just around State Circle from the statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Taney, a Marylander from Frederick, wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857 that held blacks had no rights that whites need recognize.

Marshall, a Marylander from Baltimore, was the nation's first black Supreme Court justice and a man who spent his life proving that Taney's view was illegal as well as repugnant.

In South Carolina, embarrassment and financial pressure finally succeeded in pulling the Confederate flag away from its symbolic mooring atop the state capitol.

Though such matters are hardly comparable, Maryland might claim a better balance of symbols, statuary in its case.

Well-positioned to secure public money, black legislators righted the imbalance created by Taney's unchallenged position east of the State House. Marshall now stands to the west.

The Klan, of course, stood closer to Taney philosophically than to Marshall. But the law served by both justices made the demonstration possible.

Heavily outnumbered and, by all rights, embarrassed, the Klan demonstrated and departed rather quickly.

The statues remain as eloquent symbols of the nation's resolve to honor both dissent and history.

Perfect symmetry cannot be achieved in such matters. Adherents of the Confederacy would defend its flag to the death, one imagines. Those who see it as a hateful reminder, even a glorification of slavery, would mount the barricades to tear it down.

On Maryland's capitol grounds, two statues orient us historically, setting the emotional and political boundaries that have defined us for better and worse.

They show us where we've been and make us think about where we're going.

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