Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford is calling for a study of a new State House plaque that “accurately reflects Maryland’s history during the Civil War.”
His request, however, was shot down quickly as the General Assembly’s presiding officers both rejected the idea.
Rutherford, a Republican who is also African American, called on the State House Trust to create the study less than a week after the same panel voted to remove a bronze plaque that commemorated both Marylanders who served in both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil war. The monument, hung on the wall near the Historic House chamber where statues of Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass were installed this year, included a representation of the Confederate flag.
“As I have repeatedly stated, I want visitors to Maryland’s State House—itself a living museum and one of the most significant locations in the history of our state and nation—to understand that ours was a divided state, and that many Marylanders fought to maintain the inhuman system of slavery, America’s original sin,” Rutherford wrote in an email requesting the vote. “There can be no shadow of a doubt that there was a right and a wrong side to our nation’s bloodiest chapter, and I believe that we as leaders have a responsibility to ensure our history is represented accurately and that we seriously heed the lessons of our past in order to build a better future.”
The lieutenant governor said the panel he is requesting should be “empowered to replace the recently removed Civil War Centennial Commission plaque with a new commemoration acknowledging Maryland’s role as a divided state and educating visitors to the State House as to the clear moral failing of our nation to live up to its founding ideals.”
Rutherford, who opposed removing the original tablet, said the state must confront its difficult history with slavery rather than erasing history.
“Erasing history harms the work we must do and simply removing a plaque is insufficient to what this current moment in our history requires,” Rutherford wrote. “I am certain that you agree that it is time to finally have that long-overdue conversation on race relations, past, present, and future. We can and should do more to accurately represent Maryland’s Civil War history, the struggle of African Americans in our state, and the sincere attempts at reconciliation of our past generations, in our most historically significant institution.”
The four-member State House Trust oversees the grounds and historic State House building. Its members include the governor, presiding officers and the chair of the Maryland Historical Trust. Rutherford is Hogan’s designee on the panel.
In October, Rutherford led the push for a compromise that kept the plaque hanging in the State House but removed the Confederate Flag symbol after House Speaker Adrienne Jones pushed for it to be removed. Rutherford had the support of then Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller.
Miller, however, announced in late October that he would not seek another year on the rostrum as he battles a life-threatening cancer. His successor, Sen. Bill Ferguson, sided with Jones on Monday to remove the monument, which was done soon after the vote.
Rutherford made his request on Friday, known as Juneteenth, which recognizes the day in 1965 when Union Troops notified enslaved African Americans of their freedom two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the first woman and first African American to serve as a presiding officer in the Maryland General Assembly, successfully pushed for removal of the plaque Monday.
“Of all days, today is not the appropriate day for this discussion. I vote no,” Jones said. “The history of Maryland during this period is clearly illustrated in the State House through the information in the Old House Chamber around the portrait of Governor Hicks and the new statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. I believe that the people of Maryland are smart enough to see the complicated history of Maryland through the information already displayed.
A spokesman for Ferguson said the Senate leader agreed with Jones and voted against Rutherford’s request, effectively ending the discussion.
The removal of the plaque comes during a renewed public discussion about institutional racism and the treatment of African Americans in the United States following the police-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Three years ago, a statue of Roger B. Taney, a Maryland resident and U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was removed from the State House grounds under cover of darkness by order of the State House Trust.
More recently, there have been calls to rename military bases and buildings named for those who fought for the Confederacy, including at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Comptroller Peter Franchot called for the removal of the “Talbot Boys” statue which sits outside the Talbot Courthouse in Easton and honors county residents who fought for secessionist states.