Choptank River

Vehicles travel over the Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Memorial Bridge, which runs over the Choptank River in Cambridge.

Removing the Talbot Boys statue from the Talbot County Court House grounds should not be an end in itself – it is only a beginning of a long process to provide an honest interpretation of our local history. The statue reflects a picture of Talbot County culture after the Civil War and does not represent today’s abhorrence of racial segregation and oppression. A big part of this controversy is the location of the statue on public grounds, suggesting the county condones such outdated thinking. For that reason alone, it should be removed.

Regardless of the outcome of the Talbot Boys statue, there are other memorials to Marylanders whose racist actions should be considered, particularly those during the turbulent 1960s. The epicenter of those ugly years on the Eastern Shore was Cambridge and its so-called race riots in 1962-3 with a repeat of the same racial troubles in 1967. At the time, the Maryland General Assembly was under pressure by Governor Tawes to pass an anti-discrimination bill, an important part was an accommodations clause allowing blacks to eat in any restaurant or stay in any hotel along with a multitude of other segregated venues — freedoms blacks should have always had. President Johnson’s Civil Rights Act was in the works, but acceptance to its terms was hotly debated and enforcement was not yet in full gear.

Most of Cambridge was still segregated, as were many of the Shore’s rural towns. But Cambridge with its economic troubles and large black population was the hometown of its leading district representative, State Senator Frederick C. Malkus. Malkus led the opposition to Tawes’ accommodations bill, later to go on to personify the opposition to all civil rights legislation in the General Assembly. Malkus, as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, found enough support to exempt other counties from Tawes’ bill, going so far as to suggest exempting taverns from the accommodations bill and amazingly added a crazy amendment to provide criminal penalties for anyone claiming racial discrimination. He claimed Martin Luther King was a communist troublemaker and civil rights legislation was un-American. He fought any attempt to repeal Maryland’s law against interracial marriage and swore segregation of county schools was underway in Cambridge – which was not true. His delaying tactics on Maryland’s civil rights bills and unabashed public support of Gov. George Wallace’s white supremist views painted Malkus as the foremost Maryland segregationist at the time. None of his proposals passed the more sensible General Assembly though his actions clearly exacerbated the Cambridge riots.

Despite his racist views, which he shared with other legislators of less prominence, Malkus survived the 1960s somewhat intact, holding on to his senate seat, but losing his Judicial Committee chair.

In 1985 Malkus introduced legislation to build a bridge across the Choptank River from Trappe to Cambridge, parallel to the deteriorating 50-year-old Emerson Harrington bridge. He hinted to other legislators that the bridge could be named after him. Funds to build the bridge would come from a recently enacted gas tax, which, ironically, Malkus had previously voted against. Gov. Harry Hughes approved the bridge funds but vetoed the suggestion that it be named after Malkus. At the time, Malkus was celebrating one of the longest terms in the Maryland General Assembly, and as a result of his senior status, along with his conspicuous Senate seat in the front row, the bridge was built and is now named the Frederick C. Malkus Bridge – the second longest state bridge and the first bridge to be named after a living Marylander.

The late Gov. Hughes stated in his 2006 autobiography that his veto was partly based on Malkus’ longtime opposition to civil rights legislation. In the book Hughes stated:

“Here, at the entrance of the city that had been the center of the civil rights unrest that shook Maryland in the mid-1960s was to be a bridge named after one of the state’s staunchest segregationists. It just didn’t seem right.”

It still doesn’t seem right.

One has to feel Malkus’ name on a bridge over the same waters Harriet Tubman crossed to help free slaves is an ironic affront to the struggle for equality and totally out of step with today’s efforts to create a fair democratic future for all.

Malkus’ name should be removed from the Choptank River bridge at Cambridge — it’s the right thing to do.

Hornberger served as the head of publications for Maryland Dept. Economic and Community Development under Govs. Hughes and Schaefer. He writes from Trappe.

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