The House Health and Government Operations Committee voted in favor of a bill from Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Lower Shore) that would remove “Maryland, My Maryland” as an official state symbol.
The vote, taken during a virtual meeting on Monday afternoon, was along party lines, with the committee’s seven Republicans voting against the repeal.
The nine-verse song, which was written as a poem during the Civil War by James Ryder Randall, a Baltimore native and Confederate sympathizer living in Louisiana, has enjoyed its status as a state symbol since 1939. Typically unsung verses of the song refer to ‘Northern scum’ and to President Abraham Lincoln as a despot and tyrant, though any public performances of the song have fallen out of favor in the last several years.
House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) said Monday that she was offended by portions of the song that call Lincoln the first Republican to occupy the White House a despot and use the words that John Wilkes Booth shouted after Lincoln’s assassination, but decided not to support repeal.
“We have a lot of cancel culture going on, and we’re canceling everything,” Szeliga said.
In coming to her decision to oppose the bill, Szeliga said she reflected on her own personal heroes of the past.
“You know, David from the Old Testament who committed adultery and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed we didn’t cancel him out of the Bible, but showed that that’s a man with flaws,” Szeliga said. “So I’d like to relegate this song to history, but I’m not going to be able to vote to repeal it.”
Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-Baltimore City), along with other Democrats present at the meeting, voted in favor of repeal.
“It is not cancel culture to say our state should not be represented, should not be honoring these words, as our state song,” Rosenberg said.
Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick), who has sponsored repeal efforts in the past, noted that the song actually took on its status as a state symbol during “one of the most racist periods in Maryland.”
In 1935, Gov. Harry W. Nice, who opposed the song’s “objectionable verses,” vetoed legislation to make it a state symbol. After Nice lost re-election, Gov. Herbert R. O’Conor signed the bill into law in 1939.
Danielle E. Gaines