March 12, 2001

                        Civil War buffs call state songs
                vital to heritage
                         By Ellen Sorokin
                                 THE WASHINGTON TIMES

                           Civil War songs, under assault by the historically
                      squeamish and the politically correct in Maryland and
                      Virginia, drew only praise from music and history buffs
                      gathered in the District yesterday.
                           About 100 Civil War historians
                      and enthusiasts attended the
                      performance of "Civil War Live!"
                      yesterday at the Kennedy Center,
                      and many decried the
                      controversies over state songs in
                      the two states as examples of
                      political correctness run amok.
                           "These songs are part of our
                      history," said O. James Lighthizer,
                      president of the Civil War
                      Preservation Trust, the group that
                      hosted the performance to commemorate the 140th
                      anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
                           "The views during the time those songs were written may
                      have been wrong, may have been different from what we feel
                      now," Mr. Lighthizer said. "But that doesn't make what these
                      people did and felt back then wrong and that this part of
                      history should be thrown away."
                           Maryland lawmakers are considering removing
                      "Maryland, My Maryland" as the state's official song because
                      some critics say its lyrics are an affront to their "21st century
                           Lawmakers in Virginia squelched "Carry Me Back to Old
                      Virginia" for similar reasons four years ago.
                           Nevertheless, the history buffs yesterday argued that these
                      songs should be accepted for what they are. The lyrics, they
                      said, are a part of the country's heritage and a part of a
                      legacy for which their great-grandfathers fought with the belief
                      that they were defending home and hearth.
                           "It's a shame that they're trying to rewrite history," said
                      Ethel Johnson of Potomac, Md. "It's like saying we should go
                      back and erase every event that may have hurt someone.
                      That would be impossible. That was the way life was back
                           Maryland Delegate Peter Franchot, Montgomery County
                      Democrat, introduced a bill to eliminate the song as the state's
                      anthem because its lyrics, among other things, calls Abraham
                      Lincoln a despot and Union troops "Northern scum."
                           Maryland, though it remained loyal to the union,
                      contributed thousands of troops to the Confederacy and
                      Baltimore was a particular hotbed of Confederate sympathy.
                      The song, written in 1861 by Confederate sympathizer James
                      Ryder Randall, was an appeal for secession, urging Maryland
                      to avenge "the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of
                           "Maryland, My Maryland" was one of the tunes
                      performed yesterday.
                           Several listeners questioned the criticism of lawmakers.
                           "Why can't the politicians just leave it be?" asked Harold
                      Koth, a Civil War enthusiast from Bethesda, Md. "The
                      people in Virginia already lost their song. Maybe it was racist,
                      but you can't change the past, so don't dwell on it. It's like
                      asking people to erase their pasts. We don't ask anyone to
                      change their past. That's not right."
                           Virginia lawmakers silenced "Carry Me Back," the official
                      state song since 1940, in 1997, after critics said its reference
                      to "this old darkey's" desire to return to Virginia, where he
                      had worked "so hard for old massa," was offensive in its
                      portrayal of a freed slave's nostalgia for the plantation life.
                           The song was written by James Bland, a free black New
                      Yorker who wrote more than 700 songs after quitting
                      Howard University to become a minstrel. Virginia legislators
                      have not settled on a new tune that would offend no one.
                           Several in yesterday's audience, which gave standing
                      ovations to the singers who performed tunes from the North
                      and South, said they would prefer to not have a state song
                      than see "Maryland, My Maryland" or "Carry Me Back to
                      Old Virginia" replaced.
                           "Another song won't be able to capture that fighting spirit
                      a lot of these songs sing about," said Marian Hall of
                      Arlington, Va. "With a new song, you lose that connection.
                      You lose part of that history."