Taney’s Tainted Legacy

Jennifer Skalka, Baltimore Sun, July 17, 2007

A bronze bust of Roger Brooke Taney stares sternly ahead, as if he were watching the two cherubs frolicking in the fountain in front of City Hall. Author of the inflammatory Dred Scott decision affirming slavery, Taney has been immortalized here for 75 years, largely ignored by passers-by.

But as Frederick has grown and become more diverse, a small band of residents is looking to move, or remove, this tribute to the Supreme Court chief justice who once resided in the city, saying his racism can no longer be condoned—even in the context of history.

“It’s quite offensive to have that there,” said E. Kevin Lollar, an attorney who is also director of development for Frederick’s Housing Authority. “I realize that it’s a part of history, but so were a lot of other things that we eventually let go of.”

Lollar has joined forces with the head of the local NAACP and the leader of United Latinos of Greater Frederick to prompt a public discussion about the bust. The trio hopes that conversation will convince the city’s mayor and aldermen to put Taney’s likeness in what they believe is a more appropriate spot; the local museum is one possibility.

The group is looking to capitalize on the General Assembly’s passage this year of a resolution expressing “profound regret” for Maryland’s role in slavery. Taney’s decision, meanwhile, was lambasted here last month by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who said it “threw the country on its ear.”

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Between 1990 and 2006, Frederick’s total population has soared nearly 47 percent, from 40,148 to 58,882, according to U.S. Census data.

Blacks make up about 15 percent of the city population, up from 13 percent in 1990. Hispanic residents are about 5 percent of Frederick residents, more than double their percentage of the population in 1990.

Irene Packer, board chair of United Latinos of Greater Frederick, said she believes a public dialogue about the bust could lead to a more pressing discussion of how the city can take better care of its underserved populations, in the area of affordable housing, in particular, and diversity education.

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Statues of Taney stand in front of the State House in Annapolis and in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore.

State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse said that public interest in removing the State House statue, placed there in 1872, has percolated periodically. But rather than remove it, officials opted in the 1990s for balance, placing a corresponding statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall nearby.

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Taney was born in Calvert County but resided for two decades in Frederick with his wife, Anne Key, the sister of Francis Scott Key.

The Frederick bust was unveiled Sept. 26, 1931. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes was the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony.

Mark S. Hudson, executive director of the Historical Society of Frederick County, said that from time to time, a shroud mysteriously appears covering the Taney bust—especially on days of commemoration. In 2000, for example, Taney’s view was darkened on Frederick Justice Day.

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