ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s state song – the refrain of an embittered Confederate sympathizer distraught at Union troops’ passage through his home state — has been a point of controversy for more than 20 years.
Several bills have been introduced over the years trying to change it — each failing.
But defeat hasn’t deterred Sen. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery, who is one of several legislators sponsoring a bill that replaces the Confederate call- to-arms song with one emphasizing the state’s natural beauty.
History buffs argue, good or bad, that “Maryland! My Maryland!” is part of the state’s history and should be preserved. Others feel the official song should celebrate the state, and all its citizens — especially since Maryland’s loyalties, even though it remained in the Union, were divided during the Civil War.
Forehand considers the current song “embarrassing” and “not worthy of filling (school children’s) memory banks.”
The loudest opponents to the change argue for the song’s historical value, but Forehand says she has that covered.
Her bill replaces James Ryder Randall’s 1861 lyrics with John T. White’s 1894 song, which has the same tune and title.
Randall’s poem, written at the beginning of the Civil War, was meant to incite Maryland against the North, calling Abraham Lincoln a despot and asking Maryland to spurn the “Northern scum.”
White’s song, however, celebrates Maryland’s countryside, calling the state the “home of light and liberty.”
“Since these aren’t `new’ words, they might have a better chance,” Forehand said. Past attempts have tried to replace the historical song with contemporary ones. After Sept. 11, Forehand said, the country’s focus has been on patriotism. White’s song, she said, “fits in with the times.” Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis spearheaded several attempts during the late 70s and 80s while serving as a state senator. He dropped it after receiving a death threat. Denis said he would support any song as long as it is a “celebration of Maryland’s being a part of the United States of America,” not a song “asking for the violent overthrow of the government.” The song, he said, is “not even good history, because Maryland was divided,” and Randall’s poem “didn’t even go into law until 1939.” Denis said the song is one-sided, excluding those Marylanders who fought for the Union. Plus it was written by a Maryland expatriate living in Louisiana at the time. The state archivist, Edward C. Papenfuse, said, “the words composed by White, in terms of what a state song should be, are equal to or preferable to Randall’s.” In a letter to Forehand, Papenfuse said, personally he preferred White’s lyrics to Randall’s “embittered Confederate Civil War poem,” which is “unbefitting a state that has contributed so much to the Union.” “Sen. Forehand should be praised for making this point,” but, Papenfuse said, “the Legislature needs to decide.”