But like everything in life, there is a balance. Also hailing from Frederick is Roger B. Taney (pronounced "TAWN-ee"), a Frederick lawyer, state Senator, Chief Justice of the United States and the much maligned author of the Dred Scot decision.
Despite Frederick's growth (it is the third largest city in Maryland, behind Baltimore and Rockville), Frederick is, in many ways, something of a small town. The square where City Hall sits is home to both Francis Scott Key's former law offices and a bust of Roger Taney. There is now an effort underway to have the bust of Taney removed from the City Square. As the city has grown, so too has its minority population and a more liberal bent to its politics, particularly in Frederick City and in the lower parts of the county.
The move made by the local NAACP and a couple of Frederick lawyers,
looking to capitalize on the General Assembly's passage this year of a resolution expressing "profound regret" for Maryland's role in slavery. Taney's decision, meanwhile, was lambasted here last month by Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who said it "threw the country on its ear."But the removal of the bust is indeed whitewashing history. Things have changed and people recognize the Dred Scot decision for what it is, a stain on American history. But those stains must be acknowledged before we can move on with the present.
In the 1857 majority opinion, Taney ruled that Dred Scott, a Missouri slave who had traveled with his master into free territory and wanted his freedom made permanent, should remain enslaved. The language Taney used in describing black Americans forever tarred his legal legacy - despite his nearly 30 years as chief justice. He wrote that the Founding Fathers regarded blacks as "beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."
While respectful of the ire that Taney's writing still sparks in many today, not everyone thinks a potentially divisive debate about Taney's 150-year-old decision - and more broadly about race - would be good for Frederick.
"It's a huge battle - I'd rather spend our time and energy dealing with issues that are going to help people right now," said Mayor William J. Holtzinger, a Republican who was elected in 2005. "Moving or not moving that bust isn't going to do a thing to help people."
Frederick Alderman Donna Kuzemchak, a Democrat, said she has read Lollar's appeal and backs him 100 percent. If the bust is an abomination to some, she said, it must go. She said, however, that the question of its fate could raise tensions in the city. She forecast a heated public debate.
"Good ole boys want to leave things where they are," Kuzemchak said. "To them, life is fine. But suggesting that moving this is whitewashing history is bunk. Things have changed everywhere, and you should change with them."
When movements like his occur, it makes my blood boil worse than anything. Such efforts signal to me that we can't face our past, learn the lessons and apply them to today. These folks looking to remove the statute will, in the long run, result not in remembering the sins of the past but not knowing of them. It is far better for me to have to explain about a person dipicted in a statue, the good and the bad, than have no opportunity to expalin the racist undercurrents of our past.
Roger B. Taney was a racist, there is little doubt about it, but so too were many men of that age. Yet, we still have a massive public monuments to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other greats of American history. All of these men were flawed in substantial ways, yet we continue to exalt them. Taney, until the Dred Scot decision, was a rather unremarkable politician and lawyer. Had American circumstances been different he might be celebrated in Frederick and in Maryland as just a footnote in the Supreme Court's history. But the past cannot be changed and we cannot ignore it. Perhaps in some fundamental way, the Dred Scot decision forced the nation to examine its moral foundation. Yes, the examination led to a bitter and bloddy Civil War, but this nation would not have survived without the Civil War. It seems odd to say it, but the Dred Scot decision and the Civil War that resulted may have done more to help this nation to address its racisim than ignoring the problem ever would have.
We cannot change history, we cannot make it better or more palatable. So my question to Alderman Kuzemchak is this; What if something about Francis Scott Key comes to light that is dark and negative, will we expunge Frederick's history of Key? Taney is not hero and no saint, but he was a historical figure and we should not remove his bust from the public square just because we don't like his opinions.