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Maryland moves to repeal its state song, a pro-Confederate anthem that urges violence and calls Lincoln a ‘despot’

Maryland’s oft-debated state song, a relic of the Confederacy that calls Union supporters “Northern scum,” is one signature away from being repealed.

The state’s House of Delegates voted Monday to repeal “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song. It’s the closest legislators have come to removing the pro-Confederate song from the state canon in decades.

The most recent campaign to repeal the song was led by Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, the first Black woman to serve in that position, and state Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who sponsored three previous attempts to repeal the song.

The renewed focus on racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter movement gave new urgency to the move to remove the song, Kagan said.

“There’s a consensus that it was time to finally remove the offensive lyrics from Maryland’s lawbook,” Kagan told CNN.

The bill moves next to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk for approval. Spokesman Michael Ricci told CNN the governor “has never really cared for the song and plans to sign the measure.”

The song was written by a Confederate supporter

The song, which shares a tune with the Christmas standard “O Christmas Tree,” was taken from a nine-stanza poem by James Ryder Randall. According to the Baltimore Literary Heritage Project, Randall was a “Confederate sympathizer” who penned the poem in the 1860s after political tensions between secession supporters and Union soldiers in Baltimore turned deadly.

The first line of the poem — “The despot’s heel is on thy shore” — is thought to reference President Abraham Lincoln, who, days before the riot in Baltimore, called upon volunteer soldiers to quash the Southern secession movement.

The song also contains several calls to defend the state from the Union, urging Marylanders to “avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore.”

Another line says the state “spurns the Northern scum,” a more direct expression of Randall’s contempt for the Union. His opinions were shared by many in Maryland, which bordered the Confederate states. Though the state didn’t formally move to secede with the Confederacy, slavery was legal in Maryland ahead of the Civil War, and a good deal of the population supported secession.

The state didn’t officially adopt the song until 1939, but legislators have tried — and failed — since the 1970s to replace or edit it, the Baltimore Sun reported this month. One delegate on Monday proposed replacing it with “The Star Spangled Banner,” written by fellow Marylander Francis Scott Key, though that amendment was rejected.

Racial injustice spurred calls for the song’s repeal

George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota reignited national attention to anti-Black racism and states’ racist histories, including what symbols they revered.

Kagan, who also cited the deaths of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died from injuries he sustained in police custody, and Breonna Taylor, said the “pressure to finally get rid of offensive Confederate-themed symbols … became consensus.”

The Maryland Senate voted unanimously to repeal the song earlier this month, Kagan said. The most recent bill marked the third time she sponsored the repeal, a stance her predecessor in the Senate shared.

As of now, there is no song set to replace “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song. Previous iterations of the legislation proposed a competition to select a new song, but Kagan said that, given the pandemic, it “was not an appropriate use of our limited time” to focus on a replacement (though she said that Rep. Jamie Raskin, a former Maryland state senator, had written a state song that could one day be a worthy successor).

“I wanted to put brackets around the state song and move on,” she said. “In future years, we can have a conversation about the new state song.”

It’s up to Gov. Hogan to sign off on the repeal. Kagan said she’d be surprised if the governor, a moderate Republican, didn’t approve the repeal and “join us in celebrating.”

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