Letter: A state song and historical perspective

Letter: A state song and historical perspective

The Westerly Sun

I recently learned that the University of Maryland marching band has decided to stop performing the Maryland State Song, “Maryland, My Maryland.” I grew up in Maryland and sang it many times. I remember it fondly: it is set to the tune of “O Christmas Tree,” so was fun for my friends and me to sing. So I wondered why they would abandon such a pleasant song.

A little research revealed that “Maryland, My Maryland” was used across the South during the Civil War as a battle hymn according to Wikipedia. I particularly recall singing the phrase, “The despot’s heel is on thy shore,” and always assumed the “despot” to be King George III. Now I learn that the despot lyricist James Ryder Randall rails against is none other than Abraham Lincoln! Randall’s lyrics go on to encourage Marylanders to “break the tyrant’s chain” (Abe Lincoln again), “spurn the Northern scum” (the Union Army) and sing “Sic semper tyrannis,” the phrase shouted by John Wilkes Booth as he assassinated Lincoln. If anyone ever explained to me what the song was about, the Civil War was never mentioned.

We often hear that “history is written by the victor.” However the United States of America embodies a glaring exception: Confederate sympathizers have spent the last 150 years or so selling us a bill of goods about our Civil War. That it was about states’ rights, not slavery. That the stars and bars flag is a tribute to the elegant culture and history of the south, not a militant reminder that Southerners continue to fight the Civil War in their minds. That monuments to Confederate generals were erected to celebrate their valiant efforts in a ‘Lost Cause,’ not to intimidate blacks and black supporters.

The abject losers of the American Civil War have so effectively integrated their sanitized version of that conflict into our culture that we don’t even realize it. However, every once in a while we turn over a stone and there it is. “Maryland, My Maryland” is a prime example.

I’m sure that some of my Maryland family and friends are decrying the University of Maryland’s decision as political correctness run amuck. But they are dead wrong.

The lyrics are ugly and unpatriotic. It angers me that Maryland children, including me, were exposed to this song for decades, without understanding its history or its subversive intent. Thanks to the university’s action, the Maryland state legislature is revisiting past attempts to replace “Maryland, My Maryland.” I hope they do it sooner rather than later. Maryland deserves a much better song.

John Merkel


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