Known as the “Talbot Boys Statue,” the monument to dead Confederate veterans had long been a flashpoint for residents of Easton, a city of about 16,000 in Talbot County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. After years of lawsuits and public debate, as well as failed votes to remove the statue in 2015, 2016 and 2020, the Talbot County Council finally authorized its removal in September 2021.
The Move the Monument Coalition (MTM), a group established by locals after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, rallied to raise the $82,000 necessary for the statue’s removal and relocation, reports Jasmine Liu for Hyperallergic. The statue and its plinth will be reinstalled at the Cross Keys Battlefield in Harrisonburg, Virginia, under the stewardship of the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, according to a council statement.
On Monday, coalition members and other onlookers gathered to cheer on, take photos of and observe workers loading the statue onto a flatbed truck. Speaking with Lowell Melser of local television station WBAL-TV 11, MTM representative Harriette Lowery said she was happy to see the monument finally removed from the public space.
“It means a lot to me to see it moved, because it represents so much ugliness and hate for people, and the people of Talbot County are better than that,” added Lowery, who is the seventh-generation descendant of people once enslaved in Talbot County.
The monument was installed and dedicated in 1916, notes the Smithsonian Institution, which catalogued the public work as part of a nationwide survey of outdoor sculpture between 1990 and 1995. It features a six-foot-tall copper statue of a young white man holding a Confederate flag and striking a heroic pose atop a stone pedestal.
The base of the work bears the names of 96 local Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. An inscription reads, “To the Talbot Boys / 1861–1865 / C.S.A.” At least 14 of these men once enslaved people or belonged to slave-owning families, wrote Casey Cep for the New Yorker in 2020.
Maryland never seceded from the Union, but Talbot and several other counties in the state were divided on whether to support the Confederacy. This statue, like many other Confederate monuments around the country, was erected by a racist white government nearly 50 years after the end of the Civil War. Easton lawyer Joseph Seth launched a campaign to create the monument in early 1912, according to the New Yorker.
This work and hundreds like it paid homage to the slave-owning past in the era of Jim Crow, when anti-Black laws were being codified and passed across the South. Seth was a Confederate sympathizer, and the Talbot Boys statue embodied the myth of the “Lost Cause”: a popular lie that warps Civil War history to valorize Confederate soldiers and minimize the Confederacy’s goal of protecting the institution of slavery.
Officials installed the statue on the lawn of the Talbot County Courthouse, which stands on the site of a former slave market. In 1919, just three years after the Talbot Boys memorial was dedicated, a mob of 2,000 people descended on that same courthouse in an attempt to lynch a Black man named Isaiah Fountain, who had been accused of raping a white teenaged girl.
Local protesters have long argued that the statue represents anti-Black racism and white supremacist ideals. Two years ago, a public records request revealed that 900 people had submitted comments to the county council about the statue, with 700 people arguing in favor of its removal, according to the New Yorker.
The statue remained standing for 106 years. During that time, anyone who entered through the front doors of the courthouse—to work, obtain business and marriage licenses, or go to court for any number of reasons—had to walk past the monument, which was featured prominently on the courthouse’s front lawn.
Talbot County installed a monument depicting Frederick Douglass, the famed Black abolitionist, orator and writer, a few yards away from the Confederate statue in 2011. As the New Yorker noted, the two sculptures shared an ironic historical link: Douglass was once enslaved in Talbot County. What’s more, one person honored by the Talbot Boys sculpture, Admiral Franklin Buchanan, was related by marriage to Douglass’ enslavers.
Representatives from Easton’s local NAACP chapter cited the Confederate statue’s central location in a May 2021 lawsuit calling for its removal. The plaintiffs argued that the Talbot Boys statue’s prominent location illegally threatened Black Americans’ access to crucial legal services.
“To Black Americans who enter the courthouse in particular, the statue sends an unmistakable message that justice is not blind, and that the law does not serve and protect them equally,” the court filing states. “That was the intent of the monument all along.”