Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Local Stuff

I live in Annapolis, Maryland.  If you live in the DC area, you've probably taken a day trip there, gotten something to eat, walked around town and then gotten ice cream* and gone out for drinks**.  At the conclusion of the day you probably said 'hey, that's a really cute town.  We should go there again.'  And hey, I'm not going to argue.

Needless to say, Annapolis is a tad more complicated for those of us who live here.  Rather than talk you ear off about local politics I'm going to mention one specific problem that's been bugging me for a while:

That's former chief justice Roger Brooke Taney, author of the Dred Scott decision, sitting right in front of the statehouse, glowering over the city.  Obviously, this is a tad troubling -- it's not really kosher to have a man who said that black people were not American citizens (using the most tortured legal reasoning to do so) immortalized in bronze in front of your statehouse.

Perhaps worse, on the backside of the statue there is the ominous date '1870.'  It seems as though Maryland decided to commemorate the freeing of the slaves and the more recent extension of citizenship and the vote to black Americans by putting up a statue of the man who said that black people had no rights that the white man was bound to respect.  So there's that.

The only point one can say in it's favor is that it's a reminder that the Mason-Dixon line runs a good deal -north- of Annapolis, and that (historically, at least) the South doesn't start at the Potomac.  But I don't think that that balances out, you know, the evil.

So the statue has to go.  What to replace it with?  It sits on prime real estate, probably the most visually prominent part of the statehouse grounds.

My nominations:

1. Frederick Douglass.  Born a slave just across the Chesapeake Bay from Annapolis, after the war he had a summer home in the city.  He was probably the most prominent, eloquent and influential civil rights activist of the 19th century.  And he's a badass.

2. Harriet Tubman.  Also born a slave on the Eastern Shore, she's an icon of the Underground Railroad, we all learned about her in gradeschool.  I do have one amendment about any statue of her -- give her her revolver.  Without it she looks like so many comforting black mother figures, with it she's obviously a revolutionary.

Beyond that, arming Tubman would give the lie to the notions that a)the struggle for black civil rights has been mostly peaceful (even King depended upon the threat of violence - 'I'm asking you nicely but we can only be denied our rights so long before someone snaps') and b) that black Americans sat by as passive spectators during the civil war.  Tubman herself was a union spy during the war, and 200,000 other black Americans served in uniform at places like The Crater, Millken's Bend and Nashville.  Both Lincoln and Grant credited them with winning the war for the union.

Replacing the current statue with either figure would, it's true, 'only' be a symbol.  But symbols are important for how we remember our history, and how we define ourselves.  That's why we make monuments in the first place.  Replacing Taney with Douglass or Tubman would symbolize Dred Scott's defeat.

*The Annapolis Ice Cream Company is the only way to go
**Personally I avoid the bars by the docks, which are terminally bro-y, and generally hit Harry Brown's on State Circle or Level (yuppy as hell, good cocktails) or Ramshead on West Street.

No comments:

Post a Comment