“Maryland, My Maryland,” the Civil War battle hymn that refers to “Northern scum” soon may no longer be the state song.
But rather than replace “the embarrassing, outdated and racist song,” as Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) called it, the State Senate opted last week to demote the song to historical status.
“It will be designated as historical. We are putting it aside,” said Kagan, who stressed that her preference for the new designation is “historical, not historic. ‘Historical’ means that’s what we used to believe.”
The lyrics, which are from a poem written in the early days of the Civil War by James Ryder Randall, “are offensive and outdated,” she said, explaining why she has been trying to repeal and replace the song since 2016.
Before the song is officially downgraded, the House of Delegates must agree. An official vote in the House has not yet been scheduled.
The House held a hearing before its Health and Government Operations Committee March 28 but no action was taken.
However, Del. Shane Pendergrass, (D) of Howard County, who chairs that committee, said, “These bills tend to go nowhere as long as I’m chair. I won’t call that a promise, but I would call that fairly good” information.
Maryland legislators have tried unsuccessfully since 1974 to change the state song, and Kagan had hoped this time the legislature would either pick a different song or hold a contest for a new state song.
The Senate passed SB790, with 30 Democrats voting in favor and 13 Republicans voting against.
Republican Senator J. B. Jennings, of District 7, thought that political correctness was going too far. On the Senate floor, he asked, “Where does it end? We did it with statues and now it’s the state song,” he said, pointing to the recent push to remove Civil War statues that glorify those who ruled during slavery.
Removing dated statues or a song may be merely symbolic Kagan said, but, she asked, “What’s wrong with symbolism?”
Maryland removed a statue of U.S. Supreme Court Roger B. Taney, who wrote the infamous holding in Dred Scott v. Sandford, which declared that African-Americans could not be citizens of the United States – Kagan called that move symbolic and the right thing to do.
When asked if she would continue to work for a new state song, Kagan said no, calling this the “time to move forward.”
“I realize there are more important things to work on, like education, transportation, healthcare and safety,” she said. “The state song shouldn’t take up a lot of our time.”
Kagan testified before the House committee, noting, “The tune is a German drinking song. It’s ‘O Tannenbaum.’ It’s a Christmas song.”
She told committee members that changing the designation of the song “is an imperfect way of addressing an imperfect situation.”
Rev. Kobi Little, political action chair for the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, also testified against continuing “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song. The lyrics celebrate the Confederacy and gun violence, he said.
Three men then testified in favor of keeping the state song.
“Once it’s gone, it’s forgotten,” said Jay Barringer of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“What’s next, perhaps the state flag?” he asked.
While the possibly-designated historic song will always contain the verse, “Thou wilt not cower in the dust, Maryland! Thy beaming sword shall never rust,” Kagan looks at last week’s Senate vote optimistically, if the measure is passed by the House committee and then the full House of Delegates.
“At least it’s not our state song anymore.”