For almost eight decades, the official state song of Maryland has been a Confederate ballad whose lyrics call Unionists “Northern scum” and President Abraham Lincoln a “despot” and a “tyrant.”
On Wednesday, Maryland’s Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would retire the controversial song.
The bill’s sponsor is seeking to demote “Maryland, My Maryland” from “official” to “historic,” effectively retiring it and opening the door to a new state song.
In her bill, Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D) wrote, “it is imperative that the current State song be retired and that a new State song be adopted that honors the past, celebrates the present, and anticipates the bright future of this State and its residents.”
Critics have long argued the state song, adopted in 1939, celebrates the Confederacy and is contrary to the ideals and values Marylanders have today. Recent debate over the song comes as some US cities and states have removed symbols of their Confederate past, which are seen by many as racist.
On the state’s official website, the song is described as a nine-stanza poem written by James Ryder Randall in April of 1861, near the beginning of the Civil War. Randall, a native of Louisiana, was outraged at the news of Union troops marching through Baltimore.
The poem articulated Randall’s Confederate sympathies and also refers to the phrase, “sic semper tyrannis,” a rebels’ rallying cry, which John Wilkes Booth reportedly shouted in Ford’s Theatre after fatally shooting President Lincoln in 1865.
For those who haven’t heard the song, it’s sung to the traditional tune of “O, Tannenbaum” and is often performed at major events in the state, such as the annual Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
Over the years public criticism of “Maryland, My Maryland” has grown, and a number of proposals have been introduced to modify or replace the song. But the current bill on the Senate floor has been the only one to pass a preliminary approval vote.
In August, the University of Maryland marching band announced they will no longer play the song before Terrapin football games.
While the bill received preliminary approval, it passed only by a narrow 25-19 vote. The bill faces a vote for final approval later this week.