Md.’s state song stirs debate among lawmakers

WASHINGTON — Maryland’s state song is in need of an overhaul — or according to some state lawmakers, the song itself should be ditched in favor of something less “divisive.”

It’s not the melody that bothers Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, or her colleague Sen. Ron Young, D-Frederick. The tune is from an old German folk song, and most people know it as “O Tanenbaum” or “Oh Christmas Tree.”

No, it’s the lyrics that have renewed a fight going back to the 1970s to have the state song changed.

The lyrics were actually a poem written by Maryland native John Ryder Randall, who developed strong Southern sympathies. Randall wrote his poem in 1861, inspired by a violent encounter between a Baltimore mob and members of the Massachusetts 6th regiment who were rolling into town by rail on their way to defend Washington, D.C.

The conflict escalated near Camden Station (now the site of Camden Yards) when four soldiers and a dozen residents were killed in the violence. Up to 100 people were injured. Randall’s lyrics reference the “patriotic gore” in his native Baltimore and celebrated the Confederate leanings that many Marylanders had at the time with the line “Huzza! She spurns the northern scum!”

It’s that kind of language and sentiment that have Kagan calling for a brand new state song. The current song, she says “alludes to Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant and a despot” and she calls the song “offensive and divisive”.

“I believe we need a state song that brings us together,” Kagan says, who is sponsoring SB 222.

Opponents to changing or dropping the song say it’s another attempt at obliterating the state’s history. Back in July, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, asked about calls to remove symbols of the state’s Confederate past, asked where it would all end.

Referring to moving the statue of Roger Brooke Taney from the State House grounds, Hogan called the efforts “political correctness run amok.” Taney was the Chief Justice in the Dred Scott case, the case that found that slaves were not and could never become citizens and that because the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, slavery could be allowed in all states.

There are a total of four bills that propose replacing or altering the state song, and the fight is one that goes back at least as far as 1970.

Under Kagan’s bill, the song would be replaced and a contest held to choose a new song. One that Kagan says should not only be unifying, but would be “singable” as well.

The public would have input: music historians and state experts including the state archivist would narrow down the selection, but the semi finalists would have their songs posted on a state website where the public could vote for their favorites. Then in the next legislative session, the new state song could be chosen.

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