US: Maryland repeals Confederate call to arms as state song

The Civil War-era song has for decades been a subject of debate that gained new urgency amid racial injustice protests.

Confederate images, statues and relics have been removed across the US amid a larger reckoning with racial justice [File: Gerry Broome/The Associated Press]

Legislators in the US state of Maryland have passed a repeal of the state song, a Civil War-era call to arms for the Confederacy that also refers to President Abraham Lincoln as a despot.

The vote by Maryland’s House of Delegates comes after decades of debate over the song titled Maryland, My Maryland, sending the measure to Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

His spokesman, Michael Ricci, has declined to say whether the governor would sign the bill because it has not been formally presented to him, but he noted Hogan has said he does not like the song.

The song, set to the traditional seasonal tune of O, Tannenbaum, was written as a poem in 1861 by James Ryder Randall.

It was adopted as the state song in 1939. Maryland lawmakers have tried to replace it since 1974.

Last year’s nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd and other police-involved deaths of Black people helped to strengthen resolve to finally repeal it as the state song.

“There was a feeling of enough is enough,” said Senator Cheryl Kagan, who sponsored the legislation this year for the third time.

The measure passed the state Senate 45-0 and the House passed the bill 95-38 on Monday, as a former Minneapolis police officer went on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death in May last year.

Maryland was a border state in 1861, and many of its residents at the time sympathised with Randall’s call to secede from the Union.

He wrote it as he was distraught over the shooting of a friend during a melee when Union troops marched through Baltimore on their way to Washington.

The song begins with a hostile reference to Lincoln: “The despot’s heel is on thy shore, Maryland. His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland.”

Previous attempts to change it have stalled over disagreements about finding a replacement.

This time, sponsors avoided that debate by repealing it without a replacement.

‘This isn’t just about legislation’

Opposition to the song has been growing in recent years.

In 2017, the University of Maryland marching band announced it would no longer play the song before football games.

Last year, Pimlico Race Course, home to the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, part of horse racing’s Triple Crown, scrapped its tradition of playing the song before the race.

Other legacies of the Confederacy have been removed in Maryland and around the nation.

Days after violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Maryland officials removed from the Capitol grounds a statue of Roger Taney, the US Supreme Court justice whose 1857 Dred Scott decision upheld slavery and denied citizenship to Black Americans.

Last year, Mississippi adopted a magnolia symbol to replace the last state flag in the US with the Confederate battle emblem.

Virginia removed from its Capitol busts and a statue honouring Confederate generals and officials, including a bronze statue of General Robert E Lee.

Source: AP