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