Maryland Senate OKs state song changes, cuts 'Northern scum'
Mar. 17, 2016
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland lawmakers took a step Thursday toward scrubbing references to "Northern scum" and other Civil War-era phrases from the official state song.
The Maryland Senate voted 37-8 for the changes, while also recognizing "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state's historic song. Supporters of the measure, which now goes to the House, said it was a compromise that removes offensive language and recognizes history.
"They keep the historic song. It's still there, but this bill is an excellent compromise to move forward, so that our children and our children's children and so that all Maryland can be proud of our state song," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat. "At the present time, all of Maryland cannot be proud of our state song, and so that's the reason I'm voting green."
Maryland, which is below the Mason-Dixon Line, was a slave state with strong southern sympathies, but nevertheless refused to secede from the Union.
"Maryland, My Maryland" was written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall, when he was despondent over the death of a friend who was shot while protesting Union troops in Baltimore. It refers to President Abraham Lincoln as a "despot" and the need to "burst the tyrant's chain." The changes keep one verse from the old lyrics and add one from an 1894 poem by Frederick County educator John T. White that describes the state's natural beauty.
Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican, said it was wrong to try to eliminate parts of the state's history.
"Our song doesn't belong to the Confederacy. It belongs to us," he said.
Cassilly said the song celebrates the courage of people who are willing to stand up and fight for what they believe in, even if they turn out to be on the wrong side of history.
"It is what it is, but we learn from history, we learn from each other and we build upon it, so the idea that we're trying to excise our history is just, I don't think that's America," Cassilly said. "That's not what we're about."
The song is set to the traditional seasonal tune of "O, Tannenbaum." It was adopted as the state song in 1939.
It's not immediately clear why the song was adopted then. It was proposed in 1935, a year after the state had celebrated the tercentenary of its founding, and could've been adopted as a source of state pride, according to a panel that studied the song in 2015. The racial and political climate of the time should also be considered. There had been two lynchings, and the trial of an African-American man accused of murdering a white family in the early 1930s.
At the same time, the NAACP was pursuing equal pay for African-American teachers and by enshrining a Confederate war anthem, the General Assembly may have been seeking symbolically to challenge such efforts, the report said.
The song calls for Maryland to secede from the Union — at a time when Maryland residents sympathized with the Confederacy. The song begins with a hostile reference to Lincoln, who brought troops through Baltimore to protect Washington: "The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland! His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland!"
It ends with a call for the state to stand up to the Union: "She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb — Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum! She breathes! She burns! She'll come! She'll come! Maryland! My Maryland!"