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Maryland General Assembly

Lawmakers seek less Confederate state song

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“Maryland, My Maryland” by James Ryder Randall has been the state song since 1939. But a state panel recommended replacing it in December, and now state lawmakers have a few ideas about how to eliminate the homage to the Confederacy.

State historians say Randall wrote “Maryland, My Maryland” in 1861 while mourning a friend shot by Union troops marching through Baltimore. Confederate troops adopted it as a battle song during the Civil War.

But several members of the General Assembly say they are ready to stop commemorating this less-than-proud moment of Maryland's history.

"Frankly the history that's in the current song is history I think we should be somewhat embarrassed about," said Del. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican.
West is behind one of three proposals in the state legislature aimed at replacing the song. 

"The song was written by a Confederate sympathizer and it was a plea for secession," he said. "That part of history is there. We don't to whitewash it, but we certainly don't need to celebrate it by singing it in order to celebrate the state of Maryland."

The notion that the song needs to go is fairly common.

"It is about a point in time when Maryland citizens were extremely divided. It is the only song that actually recommends overthrowing the federal government. It's disparaging to one of the most respected presidents in our history, Abe Lincoln. It calls him a despot and a tyrant. There's a reference to northern scum," Del. Karen Young, a Frederick County Democrat rattled off the reasons why the song is offensive. "It doesn't celebrate Maryland's beauty and the best things about our history."

But while legislators share the desire for a new song, they differ on how to achieve the goal.

West proposes tossing out the old song entirely and starting fresh. He wants to hold a contest to find the new song — one written by a Maryland musician and not set to the tune of the Christmas song “O Tannenbaum,” the way the current song is.
West promised that by this time next year, should his bill pass, an expert panel will have selected three finalist song choices.

But Young said she worries that a contest would take too long. Virginia’s contest to replace its song took more than 17 years.

"What's really important is that we replace the current state song and that we quickly get unified on a replacement," she said. "The past two times it was brought up there was consensus to retire the current state song, but there was not agreement on the replacement and that's the potential showstopper."

Young and her husband, Sen. Ron Young, also a Frederick County Democrat, have proposed keeping just the third verse of the original song:

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Maryland, my Maryland!
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Maryland, my Maryland!
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
And boldly we thy claims express,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,
thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland, my Maryland!

Then the Youngs propose using the fourth stanza of Frederick County native John T. White’s poem, also called “Maryland My Maryland.” That poem, written in 1894, celebrates Maryland’s natural beauty:

Sail on, sail on thou Ship of State,
Maryland, my Maryland.
May we thy children make thee great,
Maryland, my Maryland.
May gratitude our heart possess,
And boldly we thy claims express,
And bow in loving thankfulness,
Maryland, my Maryland.

Senate President and self-proclaimed history buff Mike Miller said he would be in favor of a proposal that retains some of the original song.

“I have two handwritten versions of James Ryder Randall's song that he personally wrote out. I have a picture of him, an oil painting of him," he said. "It's going to be our historical state song, and if we created a new song, hopefully it would incorporate maybe one or two of the stanzas of our current song."

Like West, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Democrat from Montgomery County, has proposed establishing a state panel to devise options for a new song. Residents would then be able to vote online to choose the final song.

Kagan told a Senate committee on Thursday that she had high hopes for a new song produced under her legislation.

"I mean what if Billy Joel wrote our state song or something? Who knows?"

Ron Young told her he would prefer that the job go to a Maryland resident.