The Rockville Confederate statue Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Those in favor of keeping a Confederate statue at the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville invoked Nazi Germany, the Taliban, and Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Berlin Wall on Thursday night to defend why they believe the statue should remain in a grove of trees across from Montgomery County Circuit Court.

A majority of the approximately 20 speakers urged the four-person Rockville Historic District Commission during a three-hour meeting to vote against Montgomery County’s application to move the statue, but despite the strong opposition, the commission approved the application. However, the commission did ask the county to strongly consider keeping the statue in a public place in Rockville, although the county isn’t required to satisfy the request.

The commission was tasked with reviewing the application because the statue stands on the grounds of the Red Brick Courthouse, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The county owns the statue and County Executive Ike Leggett has previously said he wants to move it because he believes it’s “a reflection of somewhat revisionist history.” The push to move the statue began after nine people were killed in a shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina in June.

At least five historians, including the leaders of Peerless Rockville, the Montgomery County Historical Society and The Menare Foundation testified that moving the statue would be akin to removing a significant piece of history from the site—one that has been used to inform citizens about the Civil War for decades.

Speaker Patricia Woodward called the county’s efforts to move the statue a “Talibanic” movement to “erase our history” and invoked Martin Luther King to ask that people remember “tolerance and forgiveness” in regards to the statue.

Another speaker said that Germany hasn’t attempted to whitewash its history in World War II. That prompted a different speaker, Christina Ginsburg, to later say that Germany hasn’t glorified its role in the war, but rather the country has made a conscious effort to depict the horrors of the war, which she said the Confederate statue fails to do.

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Elbridge James, who spoke on behalf of local, state and national chapters of the NAACP, made an impassioned plea to the commissioners to remove the statue, saying that his son and family have to walk by the statue honoring Confederate soldiers.

“We are stating very clearly that the statue has to go,” James said. “It doesn’t belong on the people’s ground. A history lesson doesn’t start on the courthouse grounds. Those grounds belong to all the people, not just to some.”

An inscription on the statue, which was first erected in a traffic island in 1913 and moved to the courthouse grounds in 1971, reads, “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland that we through life may never forget to love the thin gray line.”

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The county enclosed the statue in a wooden box at the Red Brick Courthouse site after the words “black lives matter” were spray-painted on it in July. One speaker who defended the statue compared tearing down the box with Ronald Reagan’s demand to Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

The debate among the commission members centered on whether the statue is technically part of the Red Brick Courthouse historic site and whether it could be moved based on the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Ultimately, they decided that it was not a significant historical element of the Red Brick Courthouse, but that it was a valuable piece of history.

Greg Ossont, deputy director of the county’s Department of General Services, said the county has yet to identify a permanent site for the statue, but said it will be moved only once—from its current location to a permanent site.

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The county has identified several potential sites:

  • The Beall-Dawson Historical Park in Rockville
  • Darnestown Square Heritage Park in Darnestown
  • Calithea Farm Speak Park in Potomac
  • Edgehill Farm in Gaithersburg
  • Jesup Blair Local Park in Silver Spring

The Silver Spring location appears unlikely to be chosen, however, after community members and County Council member Tom Hucker, who represents Silver Spring, asked the county in no uncertain terms not to move it there.

Ossont said the county is interested in picking a permanent home for the statue as soon as possible and that a group of local historians, government officials and representatives from the black community convened by council President George Leventhal is working on selecting a location.

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Now that the county’s application has been approved, the county will have one year to remove the statue, although it can ask for two six-month extensions, according to Rockville officials.