- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

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 values."
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 then."
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 Baltimore."
"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."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide