Saturday, June 27, 2015

An anthem from the Confederacy

Time to chuck out

Maryland's ugly state song

The murders of nine people in a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., brought quick demands across the nation to bring down that state's official flag -- a Confederate banner symbolizing for many its history of slavery and racism.

But surprisingly, there seems to have been no new call in Maryland to bring down its state song, "Maryland, My Maryland" -- an anthem steeped in that same ugly history.

((UPDATE JULY 10: The Frederick News Post reported this week that state Delegate Karen Lewis Young, a Democrat from Frederick County's District 3A, has submitted a bill to at least change the lyrics -- replacing them with a poem by the same title written in 1894 by John T. White, a Frederick County native.

“His poem celebrates the beauty of Maryland. The beautiful shores, the majestic mountains,” Young was quoted by the newspaper. “It is in no way controversial, and I think we want to have a song that endures over time and something that just celebrates the state beauty, is unifying and enduring, and not controversial and divisive.”)

 I took note of the song's history in The Real Muck four years ago, as Baltimore marked the 150th anniversary of its "Pratt Street Riot" when federal troops -- summoned by President Abraham Lincoln to defend Washington in the wake of the fall of Fort Sumter in South Carolina -- were attacked.

No one died in the Confederate conquest of Fort Sumter, but as the troops marched through Baltimore from the end of one rail line at President Street to another, at Camden Station close to a mile away, a southern-sympathizing mob began throwing rocks and bottles. Then came gunfire, and at least 16 deaths... the first casualties of what became a four-year war.

The riot inspired an incendiary poem by James Ryder Randall, "Maryland, My Maryland!," which was subsequently set to music (as in "O Tannenbaum") and became the official state song.

You hear the sanitary, short rendition performed by the U.S. Naval Academy chorus at the annual running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. But there's a lot more of the song that's never sung, such verses as:

The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

Dear Mother! burst the tyrant's chain,
Virginia should not call in vain,
She meets her sisters on the plain-
“Sic semper!” 'tis the proud refrain
That baffles minions back again,
Arise in majesty again,
Maryland! My Maryland!

I hear the distant thunder-hum,
The Old Line’s bugle, fife, and drum,
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she'll come! she'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

Interestingly, assassin and Maryland-born actor John Wilkes Booth shouted, "Sic semper tyrannis!" after shooting Lincoln on April 14, 1865, five days short of the Pratt Street Riot's fourth anniversary.

There are some nine verses to Randall's poem; the song we hear on Preakness Day is just the third verse, to wit:

Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Thy gleaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,-
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland! My Maryland!

The question is whether Maryland could do better.

I suggest a competition inviting Maryland's many talented songwriters to propose a better anthem, with original music -- one that sings to a brighter future rather than an ugly past.

It's about time.

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