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Government & Politics

Delegates Push to Repeal State Song, With its References to ‘Northern Scum’

The Maryland flag flies outside the State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes grew up singing in the American Legion junior girls auxiliary. She used to sing the state’s song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” at events throughout the state.

“Now I have a greater appreciation for what the lyrics truly mean,” Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore), told her colleagues Wednesday as she pressed for the song’s repeal as a state symbol.

The song, which was composed during the Civil War by a Confederate sympathizer, James Ryder Randall, has enjoyed its status as a state symbol since 1939.

“The state song pleads for Maryland to answer the Confederacy call to war, to spurn the ‘Northern scum,’ and it calls President Lincoln a tyrant for abolishing slavery,” Sample-Hughes said. “…This has stained the pages of our laws for too long and it’s unacceptable.”

The House Health and Government Operations Committee heard testimony Wednesday on three bills that would do away with the current state song. Sample-Hughes’ measure would repeal the song as an official state symbol. Bills from Dels. Terri Hill (D-Howard) and Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery) would repeal the song and create a process for replacing it with a new one.

At the hearing, it was clear all three of the lawmakers would support any of the measures passing.

“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t care which way we go,” Reznik said. “…We need to get rid of it.”

Lawmakers have introduced bills to repeal the song in 1974, 1980, 1984, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020. None passed both chambers.

Recently, in 2016 and 2018, the Senate succeeded in moving legislation to modify the current state song, only to have it die in the House.

But now, Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D- Baltimore County) has called for the song to be repealed this year, and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) has said he supports repeal as well.

Supporters of a repeal believe renewed attention on racial justice, and fallout after the Jan. 6 mob breach of the U.S. Capitol mean the legislation will gain traction this year.

“It was a horrific sight to see the symbols of white supremacy flying in the United States Capitol,” the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore City NAACP, testified. “White supremacist symbols, names and other imagery, not only are a threat to our democracy, but they are still a very real and present threat to people who have been victimized and terrorized by white supremacy for centuries in this country.”

Former state Sen. Howard A. Denis, a Republican from Montgomery County who left the Senate in 1994, told the committee “we’re well past the point where a state song such as Maryland has is appropriate.”

Denis said he’s been interested in repealing the song since “back in the day,” when he was sitting next to the late Senate President William S. James (D) at a baseball game. The senate president confided that he couldn’t bring himself to sing the Maryland state song, and whipped out a photo of one of his ancestors who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Denis then asked James if he would testify in support of repealing the song, if Denis introduced a bill. Both men followed through, but the effort became part of the long line of failed attempts to overturn the song’s designation.

Only two men, both members of the Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, testified against the repeal bills on Wednesday.

Committee members did not address anyone who testified on Wednesday.

Sample-Hughes said the committee received written testimony in favor of a repeal from the Maryland State Archives, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), and Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), among others.

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Delegates Push to Repeal State Song, With its References to ‘Northern Scum’