Goodbye, Negro Mountain
Perhaps you mistakenly believed that Maryland lawmakers were preoccupied with the state's budget crisis or the $33 billion unfunded public employees' pension and health care liabilities or the spike in home foreclosures or the unemployment rate.
No, despite these pressing problems, our state lawmakers still have plenty of time for contentious racial arm wrestling. The latest Culture War clash over racial symbols and "gotcha" politics involves renaming mountains and replacing statues.
Two African-American state senators want to rewrite history more to their liking.
Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore city) recently discovered a height in faraway Garrett County named Negro Mountain. According to Western Maryland lore, the mountain was named in honor of a black frontiersman who died in the French and Indian Wars defending white settlers against hostile Indians, now called "Native Americans," not to be confused with illegal immigrants, now dubbed "New Americans."
Anyway, after sitting there for 250 years minding its own business, Negro Mountain has become a cause celebre for black lawmakers and their guilt-ridden white enablers.
Sen. Gladden is offended by the word "Negro." (OK, how about "African American Mountain"?) Instead, she wants the black war hero's real name used. Problem is, his name was either Goliath or Nemesis there's disagreement which both sound more like nicknames or mascot tags than personal names.
Undaunted, Gladden wants the mountain renamed "Nemesis Mountain." Not surprisingly, Western Maryland lawmakers are up in arms. If Sen. Gladden finds "Negro" derogatory, they ask, how does she explain the "United Negro College Fund" or the "Negro Leagues Baseball Museum"? And what about Polish Mountain and Big Savage Mountain? (But Gladden's in favor of renaming them, too).
And just wait until Sen. Gladden stumbles upon Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore County, White Mansion in P.G. County or Old South Country Club in Anne Arundel County.
One Western Maryland delegate calls Gladden's mountain-naming expedition "political correctness run amok." But it's not about political correctness or fairness or equality. It's about political muscle-flexing. Blacks now constitute 22 percent of the Maryland Legislature. More importantly, because they are all Democrats, they constitute 32 percent of the Democratic Caucus, enough to win appeasement no matter how senseless their demands.
That's why the state legislature recently apologized for slavery, named BWI for Thurgood Marshall, granted voting rights to felons, hiked minority set-asides and illegally suspended the death penalty. Meanwhile, almost all Western Maryland lawmakers are Republicans, a truly powerless minority. So you might as well add "Nemesis Mountain" to the scalps on the Legislative Black Caucus' belt.
And you might add poor John Hanson as well. Hanson, born in 1721 in Charles County, served in the Continental Congress and was elected America's first president under the Articles of Confederation, the post-revolutionary government later replaced by the U.S. Constitution.
For that reason, Hanson's statue has represented Maryland in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol for more than a century. But that's about to change because, through no fault of his own, Hanson was a white male.
Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore city) is pushing a bill to replace Hanson's statue with a likeness of Harriet Tubman, the Eastern Shore abolitionist who escaped slavery and then conducted the famous "underground railroad," guiding fellow escapees to freedom.
Is Tubman more worthy than Hanson to represent Maryland? It doesn't matter; she has the combined votes of the black caucus and the women's caucus. Hanson has a few Southern Marylanders, led by Senate President Mike Miller, a passionate Maryland history buff, who's finally found something beyond slots that's non-negotiable.
Gov. O'Malley, his gaze fixed on a yet-to-be-determined national office, says he'll sign the "Nemesis Mountain" bill and supports putting Hanson in mothballs. And, if asked, he'd probably go along with replacing Charles Carroll, Maryland's other Statuary Hall hero, with a likeness of Ray Lewis.
Again, this isn't about fairness or justice it's about regime change. Throughout history, new regimes replace the old order's symbols with their own.
Czar Nicholas' statue was replaced by Lenin's which was replaced by Stalin's which was replaced by Khrushchev's and so on. Likewise, it's now a hate crime to display a Confederate flag or sing "Dixie."
But some symbol shifts are more difficult than others. Witness the perennial battle over our state song's lyrics or over the NFL Redskins' name. Meanwhile, some of the old regime's symbols are sufficiently tucked away that they haven't been targeted, yet, by The Red Guard.
For instance, P.G. County's James Ryder Randall Elementary School is named for the Confederate sympathizer who penned "Maryland, My Maryland." And few people know that a life-size Confederate soldier statue sits in Montgomery County's Courthouse Square, discreetly screened by a circle of trees.
But nothing inflames both sides of Maryland's History Wars more than Roger B. Taney, Maryland's most famous jurist. Taney served as U.S. attorney general, U.S. treasury secretary, U.S. secretary of war and then chief justice of the Supreme Court for 28 years. Yet, because he wrote the Dred Scott decision, reflecting the law of the day, the revisionists seek to permanently erase his memory.
Sen. Pugh explains her Harriet Tubman bill, saying, "History changes. Time changes. Everything changes. This country has progressed." But former Baltimore city Councilwoman Sheila Dixon put it more bluntly when, while railroading through a race-based redistricting bill, she banged her shoe on her desk exclaiming to her white colleagues, "Now the shoe is on the other foot."
Renaming Negro Mountain and getting rid of John Hanson aren't blows for freedom or for racial reconciliation. Instead, they cheapen their advocates' claim to righteousness and simply prove that racial bullying comes in all colors.
Blair Lee is CEO of the Lee Development Group in Silver Spring and a regular commentator for WBAL radio. His column appears Fridays in The Gazette. His
e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.