With such notable citizens as Harriett Tubman and Frederick Douglass, Maryland can do and should do better than a state song grounded in mythology and in hatred of others.
In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly has heard bills related to changing the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland.” As chair of the state’s fair employment practices agency and a civil rights voice overall, I support a new song for this great state. One that has mountains in the West, and shoreline communities with delicious crab cakes.
All Marylanders should accept that, at the end of the day, Confederate soldiers were insurgents, even the perpetrators of treason against the U.S. government. Let us sing a new tune that does not celebrate an insurrection against the Union and that potentially fosters racism.
My columns attempt to provide disability-related understanding. Generally, many blind people actively engage in some form of musical expression, from chorus to playing instruments. When I reflect upon my historical studies, both slaves as well as freed people communicated through song to combat or otherwise manage race-based crimes perpetrated against them. Therefore, I value the power of music in shaping meaning and common understanding.
As part of the ancient liberal arts and sciences, music has power. When applied incorrectly, it can reinforce the worst in us. A song that calls our union “scum” or President Lincoln, a wise lawyer and public servant, a “tyrant,” no longer should play a role in representing Maryland.
Our republic recently witnessed insurgents, at least a notable number of whom were white nationalists, rampage through one of our most important seats of government. I fret that, if our society does not consider changing racist tokens of the past the rampage of Jan. 6, 2021, will occur once again.
Therefore, I applaud my former professor at American University’s Program on Law and Government, U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin, in not only leading a valiant effort to disqualify a fomenter of insurrection from holding future office but also in proposing a new state song for Maryland.
James Ryder Randall authored the current state song. He supported the Confederate States of America. Historians consider Maryland as having been a border state that had strong secessionist elements. His song embodies this sense of a need for secession and anti-government orientation. As the events of Jan. 6 showed, our republic still possesses these anti-government elements — even racist ones.
Even as a lawyer, I have observed that law and policy intersect so much of our lives as citizens. On Thursdays during the session, the Board of Commissioners of the Maryland Civil Rights Commission receives a legislative briefing, determining the bills that it will support. Law also governs the musical ways in which we represent our states.
The board supports changing the state song. One of the bills now being considered proposes a stakeholder process inviting differing submissions for a new song. As commission chair, I argue that this could be a rich opportunity to broker together the arts and humanities community with the civil rights community for healing and reconciliation. Known for my salons in which I host those with and without disabilities together, I would look forward to facilitating these valuable relationships.
In conclusion, let us agree on a new tune representing the better nature of our angels.
Gary C. Norman is chair of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.