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Thursday, September 17, 2015

An open letter to Talbot County

Dear County Council Members, Community Leaders, and Residents of Talbot County:

Let me start by saying I don't live in Talbot County, but I do work there and I live in your neighboring county of Dorchester.  Although technically not born on Delmarva, as far as my memory is concerned, I was born and raised in Queen Anne's County.  I was barely out of toddler stage when my parents moved here several decades ago.

That said, let's talk Talbot Boys.

A couple of folks at the NAACP believe the monument should go because it honors traitors who only fought to preserve slavery.  While this is the popular rhetoric sweeping the nation, rewriting history doesn't make it true.

A century and a half after dying honorably
on the battlefield, some want to erase the
85 veterans from memory and existence
Odds are pretty good none of the Confederate soldiers honored on the Talbot Boys memorial owned slaves and probably none ever had real dreams of owning any.  Slave ownership was mostly the domain of the wealthy.  In fact, census records from 1860 show only 12% of the families living in Maryland owned slaves.  Records of the time era are spotty, incomplete, or missing, but piecing together the research out of Washington College with the records available, nineteen people in Talbot County owned almost a quarter of the Talbot County slave population.  Contrary to common belief, almost two-thirds of the Black population of Talbot County were free Blacks.  With this background, it is fairly clear that slavery was on its way out as farmers switched from the labor intensive - and soil depleting - crop of tobacco to the less labor intensive crops of corn and grains. 

What is important to remember about this time era less than a hundred years after the birth of our country is that, as a nation, we were still experiencing growing pains.  The very real fear of being ruled as England once ruled us remained a dominating fear with the general populace.  To state, unequivocally, the Talbot Boys (and by inference, Confederate soldiers in general) fought out of bigotry and a desire to preserve slavery is presumptuous at best - an outright lie at worst.  It is akin to stating WWII vets fought out of patriotism for our country and the desire to end Hitler's Holocaust despite the facts showing 66% of the veterans were drafted and most, if not all, had no idea of Hitler's atrocities until after Germany fell. 

The Talbot Boys weren't fighting to preserve slavery as they probably had no need for slaves.  They obviously were fighting for something more.  What that something more was we may never know since they took their reasons for fighting to their graves.

What Talbot County's elected officials, community leaders, and citizens should be working on instead of debating the appropriateness of a memorial honoring US veterans (even the Confederate ones are honored veterans) are solutions to the socio-economic barriers shackling almost a quarter of Talbot's citizens of all color, but being disproportionately shouldered by minorities, particularly Blacks and non-White Hispanics.  Talbot's elected officials and community leaders (including the NAACP) should be debating:

  • Meaningful employment, job training programs, and small business development.  Almost a quarter of Talbot's workers fall below the 200 percent of the poverty line for a family of four, a measurement some government programs use to determine eligibility for government assistance.  More than half of all workers fall below the estimated hourly wage needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment and utilities without exceeding 30% of their monthly wages, a good benchmark of the "liquid asset poor", or, more colloquially, workers living from paycheck to paycheck.  While removing the Talbot Boys is a new job created for at least one day, the debate does nothing to attract employers offering fifteen dollars an hour or more job growth opportunities.
  • Minimum living wage.  While nationwide there's a push to raise the minimum wage to fifteen dollars per hour, a solid case can be made to raise it to twenty-one per hour.  Given the current state law, Maryland's minimum wage is guaranteed to keep a family of two at or below the poverty line for at least the next three years.  Let' face it.  Today's plantation owners are CEOs of national corporations.  If they had their way, there'd be no minimum wage.  Debating the Talbot Boys does nothing to increase the living standards of the county's lower fourth of workers.
  • About once a month, I see six prisoners picking up trash along the roads around Talbot.  All six are Black prisoners unless it's a really nice day.  On those days, one, maybe two, token White prisoners fill in for one or two of the Black prisoners.  Since Blacks make up less than 13% of Talbot's population, one would expect to see more White prisoners picking up trash than Black prisoners.  Who's looking into possible institutionalized racism in Talbot's court system that sentences Black petty criminals more harshly than White petty criminals?  What about institutionalized racism in the prison system that punishes Black petty criminals with the "dirty jobs"?  If no such institutionalized racism exists in the court or prison systems, than what socio-economic factors are disproportionately affecting Blacks that eventually lands them in jail and what should be done to fix those factors?  Debating the Talbot Boys does nothing to fix the apparent discrepancies one can easily see from the roads in Talbot County.
Let me use someone else's words to describe the current debate of the Talbot Boys and similar debates occurring nationwide:

"We have to act, we don't have time to lose because extremists are trying to erase the identity, because they know that if there is no identity, there is no memory, there is no history, and we think this is appalling and this is not acceptable,"  UNESCO's director-general Irina Bokova stated emphatically. 

“Either [the minority groups] conform to [the Islamic State's] views of religion or belief or they have to disappear. I don't remember anything like that in contemporary history.  This is a way to destroy identity. You deprive them of their culture, you deprive them of their history, their heritage, and that is why it goes hand in hand with genocide. Along with the physical persecution, they want to eliminate—to delete—the memory of these different cultures," she added.
This speech was given at a conference in Iraq describing the terrorist group, ISIS' systematic destruction of mosques and other cultural memorials in towns of northern Iraq.  She could have easily been speaking about the systematic destruction of anything Confederate.

If the Civil War were truly fought between the Union Army wanting to end slavery and the Confederate Army wanting to preserve slavery, why would a slave owner be the commanding officer of the Union Army, who lead them to the defeat of the Confederacy?  Yes, Ulysses Grant was a slave owner and eventually became the 18th President.  He was, no less, one of at least eight Presidents who were also slave owners.  Do we remove all their portraits from the White House and demolish the Washington and Jefferson memorials in DC?  Do we throw away the Declaration of Independence because of all the slave owners who signed it?  Do we trash the Constitution because it was written by a man who owned over 600 slaves in his lifetime?

Take a look at the words of Irina Bokova describing ISIS' actions in Iraq and apply them to the debate over the Talbot Boys.  The Declaration of Independence gave us our first right.  As we told the King of England, when a government ceases to serve the people, the people have the right to dissolve the relationship and install a new government.  The forces that wanted a strong, federal government that the states would answer to clashed with the forces that wanted strong state governments held together as a union by a federal government humming quietly in the background. 

Americans fought Americans.  Slave owners fought slave owners.  Brothers fought brothers.  No one won the Civil War, but the Civil War shaped the future of the nation.  Everyone who fought that War deserves to be honored and remembered regardless how any one individual or group of individuals may view the ugliness of one side or the other.

Yes, I am shocked to learn there is no Civil War memorial to honor the Talbot Boys who fought for the Union Army and lost their lives.  There should be one placed along side the Confederate one.  The only debate on the Talbot Boys should be how to raise the money for the Union Talbot Boys and what local artists should be commissioned to create a masterpiece as a lasting memorial to the darkest chapter in American history lest future generations forget.

Related Links:
Maybe Union soldiers aren't welcomed in Talbot County
Why did the NAACP let the Yankees die?

On the road to irrelevancy
NAACP and Mr. Potter fighting to tear down the Vietnam War Memorial
Only time will reveal the true motives of Talbot Boys detractors
Final thoughts on the Talbot Boys
No to trash-talking our veterans
The Great Confederate Purge of 2015
The insolence of youth
The first secession from the United States, 2015
Letter to the House in SC
The cultural cleansing

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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