ANNAPOLIS, MD. – In a quiet, shaded area outside the State House here sits a statue of Roger Brooke Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice who wrote the monstrous 1857 decision upholding slavery in America.
But the statue won’t be here much longer.
The Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, has now ventured where the Republican president of the United States, Donald Trump, refuses to go.
Hogan has said, Enough of this white-washing of history. He’s joined the many voices across America belatedly declaring such men as Taney and General Robert E. Lee not heroes worthy of enshrinement but traitors to their country.
Take down the Taney statue, Hogan says.
President Trump, to his everlasting shame, has famously attempted to whitewash history – and thereby given new life to the neo-Nazis and KKK Neanderthals among us.
He declared some of those racist and Jew-hating bigots who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in the past few days “fine people.” They were merely trying to protect the statue of that great man, General Lee, he said.
Most of us remember Lee as the man who led the four-year insurrection to tear apart this nation. Trump asks us, absurdly, if we tear down his statue, do we then go after George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s.
But Washington and Jefferson didn’t tear this nation apart, Mr. President. They’re the ones who first put it together.
Is there a third-grader in America who does not understand that distinction?
So Gov. Hogan now joins a chorus of Republican political figures embarrassed by Trump’s words and hoping not to have their party forever tarnished by the president’s willful misreading of history.
But it’s not just Republicans joining the effort. In Baltimore Tuesday night, operating under the orders of Mayor Catherine Pugh, work crews tore down statues honoring Lee and Taney and General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate military men.
And not a voice has been heard protesting.
In downtown Baltimore, there’s a statue honoring the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a native son. Marshall’s the attorney who won the legal fight to integrate America’s public schools.
The statue of Marshall sits outside the U.S. Courthouse in downtown Baltimore. A few blocks away is the city courthouse. It’s named for Clarence Mitchell Jr., another of the city’s native sons. He served for many years as leader of the national office of the NAACP.
In 1933, Mitchell was a young reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. He was sent to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to the town of Princess Anne, where a young black man named George Armwood was lynched by a howling mob of white people.
Armwood had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman. He ran off when the woman screamed but was grabbed and thrown into jail. The mob pulled Armwood from his cell, cut off his ears and pulled the teeth from his mouth, and then hanged him from an oak tree on an old woman’s front lawn.
Mitchell wrote of “the horribly-mangled corpse which had been stripped of all clothing and was covered with two sacks. The skin of Armwood was scorched and blackened while his face had suffered many blows from sharp and heavy instruments…
“His tongue between clenched teeth gave evidence of his great agony before death. There is no adequate description of the mute evidence of gloating on the part of whites who gathered to watch the effect upon our people.”
This was 68 years after the end of the Civil War. In America, in that endless season of the lynching of black men, the war went on in smaller ways that were still quite deadly.
In our America 152 years after the war, the racial antagonisms endure, and we still have monuments to traitors who wished to enslave their fellow human beings.
As we tear down the monuments to the Taneys and Lees and Jacksons, maybe it’s finally time to put up statues to those on the other side – those who endured slavery, and those who died at the end of a rope, and those who fought such outrages and never imaged that a man like Donald Trump would come along and defend the shame of this nation.