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
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."