Posted on August 21, 2020

Maryland’s State Song Celebrates the Confederacy. This Alternative Hails Harriet Tubman and Elijah Cummings.

Ovetta Wiggins, Washington Post, August 21, 2020

For 40 years, Maryland lawmakers have tried to replace the state song “Maryland, My Maryland,” which celebrates the Confederacy with lyrics many consider racist. A 2018 bill to redesignate the song as a “historical song” died in committee.

In the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody this spring, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) — the first African American person to hold that powerful position — called for getting rid of the song altogether.

And now U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), who served nine years in Annapolis before being elected to Congress, has helped write a history-laden alternative.

Raskin introduced “Maryland, My Maryland (The Free State Song)” at a Zoom meeting of Maryland Democrats earlier this week that was part of the online Democratic National Convention. He told them it was the first time he had put on his songwriting hat since he penned a ballad to his high school crush in the 1970s.


U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer bopped in his chair as he listened. State Democratic Party Chairwoman Yvette Lewis got teary-eyed. Former governor and Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley, who in his spare time plays in a Celtic rock band, belted out a chorus, pumping his fist to punctuate the mention of the state’s largest city.


Gone are the lyrics, written by Baltimore native and Confederate sympathizer James Ryder Randall in 1861, that refer to Abraham Lincoln as a “tyrant” and urge Maryland to secede and join the Confederacy against the “Northern scum.” And out is the tune set to “Lauriger Horatius.”

In its place is a slightly folksy beat with lyrics that pay homage to famous Marylanders including Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Billie Holliday, Edgar Allan Poe, Rachel Carson and the late representative Elijah E. Cummings, who died last year. Orioles and the Chesapeake Bay get a mention too.

“Oh say can you see Elijah Cummings now, never took his hand from the freedom plow,” Northwestern High’s Mevaa sang soulfully.

That was the line that got Lewis.

“I was holding it together until I heard Elijah Cummings’s name,” she said.

Abena Affum-McAllister, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, said she didn’t last as long as the party chairwoman. McAllister said she had to turn her screen off because she was so emotional.

“The people he named, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman and so many others, that’s Maryland,” she said in an interview Thursday. {snip}


The legislature will decide in January whether to repeal the song — and, if so, whether to replace it.