Maryland’s state song, which refers to Abraham Lincoln as a despot and a tyrant and appeals to secessionist sympathies, has long been a source of controversy and the target of unsuccessful repeal efforts.
Now, lawmakers in Annapolis are mounting another effort with what they hope will be some success.
Sen. Chris West, a Baltimore County Republican whose bill calls for repealing the state song and holding a contest to replace it, calls the song embarrassing.
“It's unsingable,” he argues. “No one, no one wants to sing it. It’s a song that lionizes the Confederacy and urges Maryland to throw off the shackles of Northern rule and join the Confederacy in their glorious cause.”
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat whose bill would simply repeal the song, says more and more people are offended by it.
“It is just not appropriate for the 21st century and for all that we can celebrate in Maryland,” she said.
Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes, a Democrat from the lower Eastern Shore, who sings on her church choir, says lyrics are important to her and the lyrics of Maryland My Maryland are offensive.
She says she’s sponsoring the House version of Kagan’s bill to be “action oriented” and to “ensure that that we don't have to continue to send a message of being one that's racist, that our citizens in my opinion, the state of Maryland shouldn't have to continue to work with.”
Del. Terri Hill, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Howard and Baltimore counties, is sponsoring the House version of West’s repeal bill.
Previous repeal efforts have fallen short. Kagan, who has seen three such bills die, says there is more public pressure this year and a “consensus that it’s finally time.”
“We have a new speaker. We have a new President of the Senate. And we are all so attuned to the racial inequities in our nation,” she said. “And this can be something that Maryland does, as it's part of understanding that we need to move forward.”
House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson have said they support repeal.
There is some opposition. Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican whose district includes parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, called a previous repeal effort a waste of time. He says he was referring to the lyrics.
“From what I’ve heard from everybody it’s one verse in the song,” Jennings said. “Why not just come up with new words, you know, replace the lyric with something different. Don't change the actual sound of the song. but instead, let's change just some of the lyrics.”
The sponsors of the repeal and repeal and replace bills say they would be happy with either one, though Sample Hughes says replacement can be step two in the process.
“But step one, we need to recognize the current state song is in a posture that has racism at the helm,” she said. “And we need to make sure that that is no longer the case.”
If it does get to step two, there are at least two candidates for replacement songs.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat who represents Maryland’s Eighth Congressional district, unveiled one last August that he co-wrote with the DC Labor Chorus director Steve Jones. It’s also called “Maryland My Maryland.”
The song is sort of a travelogue of Maryland’s sites and celebrates Black abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, as well as historical Baltimoreans such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, singer Billie Holiday, poet Edgar Allan Poe and the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings.
Jeff Holland, an Annapolis musician, wrote “That’s My Maryland” last summer.
His song is a bit of a travelogue as well, that he says celebrates everything from the mountains to the Chesapeake Bay to the Eastern Shore.
The House versions of the bills are up for hearings this afternoon in the Health and Government Operations Committee. The hearings on the Senate bills are scheduled next month.