'Orwellian future' or racist symbol: Talbot Boys controversy dominates first in-person county council meeting

The Talbot Boys statue in Easton stands at the Talbot County Courthouse.

EASTON — After months of virtual meetings, county residents came out in full force to comment publicly on the Talbot Boys Confederate statue, gathering at the Talbot County Council’s first in-person meeting since last year on June 8.

In a visual display of opinion, many of those championing to move the monument wore yellow shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Move Talbot’s Confederate Monument,’ while other defenders of the statue wore square blue pins labeled ‘Preserve Talbot History.’

Following the standard introduction of legislation, public hearings and reports, the council opened the meeting to public comments, giving those on both sides of the issue the chance to reiterate key points of their arguments and the opportunity to introduce new thoughts to the council.

The Talbot Boys statue was erected in 1916 on the county courthouse lawn. Critics want the Confederate memorial removed saying it is a symbol of racism and white supremacy and its should not be on public property let alone a courthouse lawn. 

Supporters pushing to keep the Talbot Boys monument in place continued to echo previous arguments in their comments, saying that removing it would be erasing history and that it needs to remain to preserve Talbot’s history.

Speaking on behalf of the Preserve Talbot History organization, Clive Ewing opined for the group, stating that the statue is not intended to offend anyone; rather, it’s “intended to pay tribute to persons or events that were particularly impactful to our collective history,” Ewing said.

Ewing said the Supreme Court and the Baltimore courthouse have historical exhibits similar to the Talbot Boys, saying that no court has ever found the images in those courts to be constitutional rights violations.

“We believe the Talbot Courthouse should continue to embrace the rich history of this county,” Ewing said. “Otherwise, we are on a path to an Orwellian future, where government property and buildings become stark monoliths that only evoke the message of the party currently in power.”

Representing the Mid-Shore League of Republican Women, Michelle Ewing read a statement that was placed at the Talbot Boys monument this past Memorial Day. According to the statement, local Civil War veterans agreed to put two monuments on the courthouse lawn: one Union, one Confederate, she said.

“This Memorial Day, we ask Talbot County to unite and honor their intentions,” she read from the letter. “This was sacred to them; blue and gray, united. Let us build up, not tear down, our monument.”

Mid-Shore Community Church pastor Bill Glass also voiced support in keeping the Talbot Boys Confederate monument in its place. In his three minute comment, he said that his prayer for the courthouse is to keep both the statue of Frederick Douglass and the Talbot Boys, saying that if one is taken away, it destroys the impact of the other.

“Our history is our history,” Glass said. “This country has done a lot of great things and it’s also done some things like slavery, which is terrible. No one, no matter what side you’re on, wants to justify that.”

On the other side of the contentious issue, Chad Hill, vice president of Hill Hospitality voiced support for removing the Talbot Boys statue, saying that the Confederate flag on the back of the statue “squarely represents efforts to perpetuate slavery and white supremacism.”

“To argue that the Talbot Boys statue is not racist is as absurd as arguing that the Tidewater Inn is not made of bricks,” he said.

“It’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity — it is your opportunity,” he continued later in his comment, gesturing towards the council members. “Now is not a moment to be frozen; it is an opportunity to raise our standard, to step up, to come together and be better for it.”

For Kelly Moran of Easton, the fact there’s a Confederate flag representing soldier who fought to perpetuate slavery on the courthouse is wrong, an injustice, she said. However, she understands the monument’s historical significance to the area.

“We do not ask that the monument be torn down; we ask that the monument be moved — it deserves a place in history,” she said, adding that it’s unfortunate that removal supporters haven’t found a museum willing to take it yet.

Richard Potter, president of the Talbot County branch of the NAACP, once again urged the council members to “do what’s respectful.” People should go to the courthouse to receive a fair and just trial without having to worry about monuments sitting on the “lawn of justice,” he stated.

“So I urge you to do the right thing,” Potter said. “The right time to do the right thing is now; it always has been now, and you again have the opportunity to do that.”

Following public comments, Talbot County Council president Chuck Callahan commended the audience for being respectful and making the council’s job “a little bit easier.”

“This is what a community is about: listening to each other,” he said.

The council voted 3-2 last year not to remove the statue. The COVID pandemic and Talbot Boys protesters disrupting meetings after that vote prompted the council to hold meeting virtually. The June 8 meeting was the first in-person meeting this year for the five-member council.

Looking to the future of the Talbot Boys, the county has until Wednesday, June 30 to respond to the complaint filed in the federal lawsuit. Supporters of the removal of the Talbot Boys Confederate monument from the courthouse lawn are also scheduled to host a Juneteenth March and Rally on Saturday, June 19.

Kent County News Editor Daniel Divilio and Talbot Count Councilman Frank Divilio are brothers.

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