The Talbot County Council on Tuesday night opted against removing a Confederate monument, deciding the move wasn’t appropriate amid challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A contentious meeting culminated in a 3-2 vote against the removal.
The monument, known as “Talbot Boys,” was dedicated in 1916 and stands in a landscaped area near the county’s courthouse. The life-sized sheet copper statue commemorates county residents who served in the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Councilman Pete Lesher tried offering two amendments to create a private fund to finance the removal and require the statue be stored until its final destination was determined, but council members voted both amendments down before narrowly blocking the passage of resolution 290 (pdf), which would have removed the monument.
Several lawmakers said they were concerned about the lack of public input and access to council hearings amid the pandemic and wondered why more pressing issues weren’t being dealt with.
“Certainly, this is a worthy issue to be given its proper attention, but it is not appropriate to vote on tonight when we still lack sufficient public comment, knowledge of the cost of any removal, approval of the historic district commission … and knowledge of where and how the statue would be stored,” Councilwoman Laura Price said.
The hearing included some tense moments, including personal attacks, with Councilman Chuck Callahan accusing Council President Corey Pack of “flip flopping” while Pack said Callahan needed to make decisions himself instead of allowing voters to make them.
The removal can’t make it onto this year’s ballot but Callahan and Councilman Frank Divilio said they preferred to place it on the 2022 ballot.
The removal is about changing history, Callahan said, adding: “Nobody’s here that’s on that statue. There’s 84 names that’s on that statue and they can’t stand in front of us and say what their thoughts are.”
Lesher said the issue was brought forth because of demands from the public and expressed disdain when it became apparent the vote would be against the removal.
“The removal of this monument would not change the history of this county, and it may not directly improve anyone’s economic or fiscal well-being, but the number [who] have expressed their feelings on this matter have made it clear that this is indeed a powerful symbol,” Lesher said. “And our actions on it tonight I’m afraid sadly speak of who we are now as a county and the extent to which we have not yet changed.”
The county’s tourism is at risk, along with its reputation, because of the statue, he added. “The Talbot Boys is not viewed as a welcoming symbol,” he said.
A number of Confederate statues have been toppled or removed by cities, counties, or states in recent months in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Floyd, a black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Memorial Day.
The idea of removing the statue gained prominent support, including from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
Franchot, in a Facebook post on Wednesday, called the decision “deeply disappointing and troubling,” calling the monument “a stylized tribute to slavery, white supremacy and treason, erected for no purpose than to intimidate people of color at a time when Jim Crow laws were being enacted across the country.”
According to The Star Democrat, a protest took place soon after the vote. The crowd chanted “Take it down,” “Black Lives Matter,” “We will vote you out,” and “No justice, no peace.”
At one point, the group began pounding on the windows of the meeting room as the council moved through other agenda items. Pack requested a call to law enforcement officers in the courthouse, and the pounding stopped.
But Pack soon adjourned the meeting, saying: “We understand that citizens are very upset with the vote that was taken earlier today.”