Douglass statue deserves display at Easton courthouse

February 11, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

RUN THAT ONE by me again, Thomas G. Duncan. I don't think I quite got it.

Duncan, for those of you who don't read The Sun every day, is a county councilman in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. A quote of his appeared in Monday's edition of The Sun, in a story written by reporter Chris Guy. It seems Duncan has a problem with a statue of Talbot County's most famous resident, abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass, being placed on the courthouse lawn in Easton. That honor, Duncan feels, should only be for those who served in the armed forces, even "The Talbot Boys," who fought for the Confederacy.

Here's how Duncan summed it up, according to Guy:

"I think that ground is hallowed ground. People there either served or died for their country."

It's at this point that Duncan needs to run it by me again. A statue paying tribute to "The Talbot Boys" stands on the courthouse lawn. They most assuredly did not "serve their country." The country they served was the Confederate States of America - Maryland was never a member of that country, the last time I checked my history - which should not be confused with the United States of America. Those two nations that warred against each other from 1861 to 1865 had essentially the same constitutions, with a few not-so-minor differences.

Article I, Section 9 of the Confederate Constitution reads, "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." Article IV, Section 2, Part 1 stipulates that "the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired."

In case that doesn't convince you of which state's right was most important in the C.S.A., peruse Article IV, Section 2, Part 3: "No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs, or to whom such service or labor may be due."

So "The Talbot Boys" bore arms against the United States, for a government that enshrined slavery in its constitution. And please, I'll have none of the nonsense about applying 20th- and 21st-century values to the Confederacy of the 19th century. Abolition of slavery was a 19th-century value. Mexico did it long before our country did, as did the British empire in all its colonies.

No, Duncan and the others on the Talbot County Council who suggested Douglass - who never bore arms against his country and served it by helping to recruit the 180,000 black soldiers President Lincoln said were crucial to the Union's eventual victory - has no place of honor on the courthouse lawn in Easton while those who fought against it do, should run that by us again. Why?

Oh, these kind souls suggested that the library or a town park might be better suited for a Douglass statue, which smacks just a wee bit of the kind of thinking that once had black folks herded into the backs of buses or walking around to the rear of the restaurant to be served. Douglass is a figure of such prominence that his statue deserves the most prominent place in Easton. What's good for "The Talbot Boys" is certainly good enough for the man who fought against slavery and for women's suffrage (long before it was popular) and who urged blacks to join the army and remain loyal to the Union despite the racism and abuse they endured.

That was how Douglass served his country. The more persnickety folks who still insist it wasn't good enough, that only military service counts, might want to read historian David W. Blight's Frederick Douglass' Civil War. Blight revealed that Douglass was ready to accept a commission in the Union army and report to Gen. Lorenzo Thomas in Mississippi to recruit more black troops. The nervous-Nellie Lincoln administration, fearing white racist reaction, reneged on the commission promise.

You have to wonder, in a state that has never been comfortable with its most-famous native son, whether a nervous-Nellie attitude still prevails among some members of the Talbot County Council. And we should all ponder why this is a nation that is quick to honor those who fought to preserve slavery yet is still reluctant to honor those who either died or risked their lives to end it.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.