2015 | Politics

Montgomery County Residents, Experts Discuss Confederate Statue

The county executive has ordered its removal from a Rockville courthouse, but many defended its presence

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Residents and experts debated what to do with the Confederate statue in Rockville Monday night at City Hall

By Andrew Metcalf

An overflow crowd came to Rockville City Hall on Monday night to discuss the fate of the Confederate statue that stands outside the Red Brick Courthouse.

However, despite the strong attendance of more than 100 people, there were no decisions to be made. County Executive Ike Leggett had decided Friday the county would remove the statue.

Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton said she had spoke to Leggett earlier Monday.

“He is very interested in people’s perspectives and our thoughts,” Newton said. “But he has made a decision to remove the statue.”

She noted that while Rockville’s Historic District Commission has an opportunity to weigh in on the statute’s fate, there’s little the city can do because the statue stands on county land.

Historians still made their pleas to keep the statue on the courthouse grounds.

“A rush to remove the monument and erase the sentiments of the city’s past citizens does a disservice to the city’s current and future residents,” said Nancy Pickard, executive director of Peerless Rockville, a group dedicated to preserving Rockville’s heritage.

Eileen McGuckian, who wrote a book about Rockville’s history, said the statue represents a link to the town’s history and that it should remain in place, albeit with more information about how it came to be.

The statue—a life-size bronze of a young cavalry private—was erected in 1913 and paid for by a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. An inscription on the base reads, “To our heroes of Montgomery County, Maryland, that we may through life not forget the Thin Gray Line.”

McGuckian and Pickard said that when the statue was installed, the country was in the midst of reconciliation over the Civil War. It should be used as an educational tool to teach visitors about that time period in the city’s history, they said.

However, several people said the statue represented exclusionist and revisionist history.

“Removing the statue is not to erase history, it’s to eliminate from the public square a historical symbol about an unspeakable stain,” Silver Spring resident Louis Nayman said. “Don’t overthink what to do with it once it’s removed. Don’t philosophize a disgrace.”

Another speaker noted that the statue was erected as a way for the United Daughters of the Confederacy to revise the history of the “lost cause” of their fathers and described the group as a “propaganda arm.”

Historian Susan Soderberg wrote about the issue in a 1993 report in The Montgomery County Story, a quarterly produced by the Montgomery County Historical Society. According to Soderberg, the second generation who paid for and erected the monument held very different memories than the approximately 180 Montgomery County Confederate veterans who survived the war.

“The second generation had no remembrance of a lost cause,” Soderberg wrote, “but had heard many a story of the war and were influenced by the romantic aura of the myth of the South, the myth of the southern belle and the dashing cavalryman and the happy slave.”

Several Rockville City Council members at the meeting thanked Leggett for making the controversial decision.

Council member Tom Moore said he applauded the executive’s “boldness.” He also said he agreed with President Barack Obama, who said in a eulogy for the nine killed in a racially motivated shooting last month at a Charleston, South Carolina, church, that for too long “we were blind to the pain” of Confederate symbols.

Moore said he believes the statue should be moved to the Beall-Dawson House in Rockville, the headquarters of the Montgomery County Historical Society, which is only about 350 yards from where the statue stands.

Council member Julie Palakovich Carr said leaving the statue as is without proper context “does a disservice to our community” adding “it will be the county’s decision what happens.”