ROCKVILLE – Dozens of residents and historians aired their views about the Confederate soldier statue that sits near the historic Red Brick Courthouse before the mayor and council in a special session Monday night.
The statue, erected in 1913, was moved to its current location in 1971 and has an inscription that reads “To Our Heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, that we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”
County Executive Ike Leggett said he decided to move the statue and place it in storage if need be until he can decide where it should go, as has Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8). According to county and state attorneys, Leggett has the ability to move the statue, although the council needs to approve costs associated with it. But Rockville staffers also said the Historic District Commission needs to approve the fate of the statue.
Leggett said the Rockville discussions and the need for Historic District Commission approval would not affect his decision, although the discussions could address where the county should move the statue. Council member Craig Rice (D-2) also said he supported moving the statue, and the county was already getting together stakeholders when Rockville decided to hold their work session tonight.
While many residents at the session said they supported Leggett’s decision and his boldness, others said he should not have made the decision without waiting for public input. Some city residents said they did not think the city council should spend its time – with meetings that already routinely go at least until midnight – discussing a statue over which it has no property rights.
“I believe this issue is one for Montgomery County and the Maryland Historical Trust,” wrote Brigitta Mullican, a candidate for council, to the current mayor and council. “Staff time on this is not appropriate for the City of Rockville.”
Peerless Rockville Executive Director Nancy Pickard said she would prefer to see additional context added to the statue as a historical marker rather than have it removed, as did historians Eileen McGuckian and Matt Logan of the county’s historical society.
But Leggett said it does not have to remain on county property for people to learn from it.
“They can see it in a museum or whatever location it may be, but it doesn’t have to be in that location to reflect the history,” Leggett said.
Former Peerless Executive Director Mary van Balgooy said the statue could be moved to a cemetery in Rockville, where soldiers for both sides are buried.
But Menare Foundation Founder Tony Cohen also said to think about the statue’s history through its own eyes as it has seen history evolve, including a young Thurgood Marshall file one of his earliest civil rights cases and Cohen recite his own vows to marry his partner.
“Without symbols of both, what story will be left for future generations to know?” he asked.
But still others felt the symbolism of the statue was too strong to keep it near the courthouse, which is supposed to represent justice. Louis Nayman, who also had started a petition to remove the statue, said his ancestors went through the Holocaust and many were killed.
“I’m well aware of the power of symbols for good and evil, especially symbols on government property… and imply government approval,” he said.
On the other side, some descendants of confederate veterans also felt their symbols have been co-opted for racist extremists. Maryland Division commander Jay Barringer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said the Charleston shooting by Dylann Roof was “speciously linked” to SCV values.
Silver Spring resident Will Jawando, who is also running for Congress in District 8, said he agrees we need to put it in context but also have to remember the underlying problems, not just the symbols.
“Let’s not forget that they’re still deep legacies that we’re struggling with here in Montgomery County like the achievement gap,” he said.
Leggett said he expects to have cost estimates and how to move the statue by the end of the week. The County Council would have to approve expenditures associated with the move, according to Rice.