A com­mon-sense so­lu­tion to Md.'s state song prob­lem

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Fred Sho­ken Thou wilt not cower in the dust Mary­land! My Mary­land! Thy beam­ing sword shall never rust — Mary­land! My Mary­land! Re­mem­ber Car­roll’s sa­cred trust — Re­mem­ber Howard’s war­like thrust And all thy slum­ber­ers with the just — Mary­land, My Maryla

With the re­moval of Con­fed­er­atere­lated mon­u­ments, there are re­newed calls to re­vise our state song, “Mary­land, My Mary­land.” No­body wants to hear the words “pa­tri­otic gore that flecked the streets of Bal­ti­more” or “spurn the North­ern scum.” But in re­al­ity, those words are rarely, if ever, sung in pub­lic.

I have never heard any­one sing all nine stan­zas of “Mary­land, My Mary­land.” It would take about four min­utes to sing the en­tire song, much too long for any state func­tion. In elementary school we learned and sang only the third stanza, which has no of­fend­ing lan­guage.

That one stanza is sung be­fore the Preak­ness, the only time “Mary­land, My Mary­land” is reg­u­larly per­formed be­fore a na­tional au­di­ence. Only that stanza was sung at re­cent in­au­gu­rals of gov­er­nors. For all in­tents and pur­poses, the third stanza is our state song, and that is what should be leg­is­lated.

Although the words were ini­tially writ­ten in April 1861 as part of a poem to en­cour­age Mary­land to side with the Con­fed­er­acy, other ver­sions sprang up within six months. A Union ver­sion was writ­ten in Bal­ti­more by Septem­ber 1861 and printed in a Cum­ber­land news­pa­per. Through­out the Civil War, there were du­el­ing lyrics en­cour­ag­ing Mary­land to side with ei­ther the Con­fed­er­acy or Union, both sung to the tune of "O Tan­nen­baum."

When the great abo­li­tion­ist Fred­er­ick Dou­glass spoke in Bal­ti­more on Sept. 21, 1876 (a scant 15 years af­ter the poem was writ­ten), the Bal­ti­more Sun re­ported, “… the band played ‘Mary­land, my Mary­land,’ as he en­tered the room.” Would Dou­glass con­sent to be­ing in­tro­duced to the tune of a se­ces­sion­ist an­them? The black and white Repub­li­cans in that au­di­ence had years ago usurped the song in sup­port of their cause. Over the years, ver­sions of the song were used to ap­plaud Mary­land when it abol­ished slav­ery, sup­port po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates, praise the nat­u­ral beauty of our state and re­call the found­ing of Mary­land at Saint Mary’s County.

In 1934, Mary­land cel­e­brated its 300th an­niver­sary and sought to have the song played at Ter­cente­nary events. When Matthew Page An­drews, the chair­man of the cel­e­bra­tion com­mit­tee, sought an author­i­ta­tive ver­sion of the song, he stated, “It is as­ton­ish­ing the num­ber of ways the song has been printed.”

His com­mit­tee even­tu­ally se­lected a ver­sion of James Ryder Ran­dall’s poem printed posthu­mously in a col­lec­tion of his work in 1910, but de­cided to only use the third and sixth stan­zas due to their lack of “sec­tional con­no­ta­tions.”

Ayear later, the state leg­is­la­ture passed a bill to make Ran­dall’s whole poem our state song, but Gov. Harry W. Nice ve­toed it be­cause of the song’s “ob­jec­tion­able verses.” Af­ter Nice was de­feated in an elec­tion, Her­bert R. O’Conor be­came gover­nor, and “Mary­land, My Mary­land” was signed into law as the of­fi­cial state song in 1939.

So why do I en­cour­age re­tain­ing the third stanza as Mary­land’s state song? More than any­thing else “Mary­land, My Mary­land” is a call to ac­tion that res­onates to­day. In the past, the song was used to sup­port op­pos­ing sides in a Civil War, but that war has long ended. I couldn’t care less about orig­i­nal in­tent. What do the words as they’re typ­i­cally sung mean to­day? – Don’t sit there afraid of act­ing in trou­bling times.

A sword was once a tool of war, but to­day we have other weapons. The sword is a metaphor for tools of change: pens, com­put­ers, protest signs, a speak­ers stand, so­cial me­dia. Uti­lize them.

Take ac­tion for the sake of Charles Car­roll of Car­roll­ton who signed the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence risk­ing his life, for­tune and sa­cred honor.

— Em­body the spirit of John Ea­ger Howard who fought in the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War and later held high of­fice. Ded­i­cate your ef­forts to solve cur­rent prob­lems in the spirit of de­parted Mary­lan­ders. Em­u­late your own per­sonal hero from Mary­land’s past: Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, Har­riet Tub­man, Thur­good Mar­shall, H. L. Mencken, Sa­muel Smith, Wil­liam Don­ald Schae­fer, etc.

So it is not a bad song af­ter all. Just nar­row it down to the third stanza, which is the only one we re­ally sing, and fol­low its call to ac­tion.

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