No Confederate Flags in Rockville, but What About the Statue?

Confederate Soldier Memorial at Red Brick Courthouse, Rockville.

Confederate Soldier Memorial at the Red Brick Courthouse, Rockville.

No Confederate flags fly above any government or business building in Rockville, but what about the Confederate Monument on the grounds of the Red Brick Courthouse in downtown?  The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the statue directly in front of the courthouse “to our heroes of Montgomery Co., Maryland, that we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line,” unveiling it at a dedication ceremony on June 3, 1913 (Jefferson Davis’ birthday) that featured Congressman J. Thomas Heflin of Alabama, who was an outspoken proponent of white supremacy.

Rockville’s and Montgomery County’s sympathies for the Confederacy were strong both during and after the Civil War.  Of Montgomery County’s Confederate veterans, three were elected as county commissioners, five as state delegates, two as state senators, three as state’s attorney, and one as mayor of Rockville.  Vestiges still survive today. For example, Edward Wootton, whose family name is memorialized on a major street, park, and a high school in Rockville, had fought for the Confederacy. Matthew Fields, the founder of The Sentinel (now the only local newspaper in Rockville), was a vocal supporter of the South, mixing his political vision with a hatred for immigrants, blacks, and Catholics.  And of course the Confederate Monument in downtown Rockville.

The Confederate Monument was moved to the side of the courthouse in 1971 into a grove of trees as part of the urban renewal of downtown–but is that sufficient? Perhaps we’re still bound by nostalgia or too ignorant to fully realize the meaning and symbolism that was poured into that bronze soldier, who is forever gazing South.  The community still commemorated the arrival of Confederate Generals Jeb Stuart (on his way north to Gettysburg in June 1863) and Jubal Early (on his way south to Washington DC in 1864) during the 2013 Heritage Days.  The Beall-Dawson House and Glenview, two historic houses owned by the City of Rockville, barely mention the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked there and would have continued into slavery for generations had the Confederacy won.  Now that we have African Americans serving on our City Council and as the County Executive, isn’t time to rethink who and what we commemorate in Rockville and Montgomery County?  Isn’t time for us to reflect on the full meaning of the Confederate Monument?

Update July 31, 2015

Major postings about the Confederate Monument on other blogs or websites (in alphabetical order):

American Historical Association: All History Is Local: Debating the Fate of a Confederate Soldier Statue in Maryland

Bethesda Magazine: Rockville, Montgomery County Debating What to Do with Confederate Statue and Leggett Says Work Underway to Remove Confederate Statue in Rockville

Congressman Chris Van Hollen: Van Hollen Urges Immediate Removal of Confederate Statue in Rockville

History News Network: What Does Rockville, Maryland’s Confederate Monument Tell Us About the Civil War? About the Nadir? About the Present?

Rockville Nights: Rockville Confederate statue hearing draws a diversity of opinions

Rockville Patch: Group Offers Ideas on What to Do with Confederate Statue

The Sentinel: Man on the street interviews regarding the confederate statue (video); Committee releases report on Rockville Statue; and County can move confederate statue, state says

The Seventh State: Civil War Skirmish in Rockville

WAMU: Should Anything Be Done With The Confederate Monument In Rockville?

Washington Post: Confederate soldier statue in Montgomery spray-painted with ‘black lives matter’

WJAL: Confederate memorial in Rockville sparks controversy

WTOP: Confederate statue in Rockville vandalized

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7 responses

  1. It is historic, there is no denying that. It reflects an opinion of the time. It is not used to fan the flames of racism; it does honor those who fought for the Confederacy. It does recognize that many (most?) people in Rockville / Montgomery County / Maryland were Confederate sympathizers. Some fought for the Confederacy. So I don’t see a problem with it. I do find it ironic that it is next to the County’s 9/11 memorial. Two totally different times; two tragedies; two conflicts both still being fought one way or another.

    Interesting mention of the name Wootton. Should we rename that school? Petula Dvorak discusses these possibilities in her column in the Washington Post of June 26.

    By the way, someone recently put a dozen roses at the base of the statue a few days ago.

  2. Eileen McGuckian

    I have been reflecting on the meaning of the Confederate soldier in Rockville for decades. Erected 50 years after the battle of Gettysburg, it marks a time of reconciliation after a conflict that divided Rockville, Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Nation. By then, few veterans of the Civil War were still living. To me the statue represents a difficult and fascinating period in our community’s history.

    For more than a century this monument has provided citizens with an opportunity to exchange ideas in a democratic society, to reflect on how things were and how they have changed. Join me on tours of Rockville, whether 250 years of basic history and architecture or a specialized walk to places associated with the Underground Railroad and Civil War. The Confederate statue is the ideal place to introduce slavery, war, segregation, race relations, civil rights, and demographics.

    At the Beall-Dawson House, adults, scouts, and students learn about the slave-holding family who lived there, with their slaves. The Montgomery County Historical Society’s celebration of the Sesquicentennial of Emancipation in Maryland on November 1, 2014, featured presentations by descendants of free blacks and slaves, including one who was enslaved on that property. When Glenview Mansion had docents, they described Judge Bowie as a slave owner who advocated colonization, emancipation, and the Union.

    So leave Montgomery County’s Civil War monument on public land, near our historic courthouse, and facing south. indeed, we do realize the full symbolism and meaning poured into that Maryland Military Monument and need it to remain a place in which to conduct intelligent dialogue. The statue is a reminder of the history of our community, not only of the Confederacy.

  3. Max, Thanks much for this email. Interesting indeed. It made me want to go see the statue…..and to learn more about Wooten High School…….and I find that its full name is Thomas Sprigg Wooten. Where/what is the connection to Edward Wooten? Thanks, Lee H. Babcock826 Fordham Street

    Date: Sat, 27 Jun 2015 18:19:40 +0000 To: lhbabcock@hotmail.com

    1. Thomas Sprigg Wootton lived in the century prior and I assume he’s part of the same family although I don’t have the family tree. When he served on Maryland’s Constitutional Convention, he introduced the bill that created Montgomery County in 1776. More is available on page 16 of Rockville: Portrait of a City by Eileen McGuckian.

  4. I’ll suggest that everyone “read” the Confederate Monument for themselves to see what it means, both in the past and today. Parts may be obscure, such as the “Thin Gray Line” reference to the Confederate soldiers dressed in gray uniforms and that “CSA” is an acronym for the Confederate States of America. The solitary man is a Confederate soldier, intentionally looking south to the South, the former Confederate States. Next recall the moment the monument was unveiled: June 3, 1913. It’s fifty years after the Civil War and the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. The featured speaker was a congressman from Alabama, one of the former Confederate states, who was outspoken defender of the white supremacy and rumored to be a leader in the Ku Klux Klan. Now step back and consider what isn’t there and what didn’t happen: a Union soldier, the Thin Blue Line, USA, and July 4. If this monument were about reconciliation between North and South, there’s scant evidence. It’s about remembering and preserving the values of the Confederacy. What were those values? Are they ones we want to remember and embrace today? Not to me. The monument’s embrace of succession from the United States and rebellion against the Constitution is offensive and unpatriotic. I’m not willing to give public land and public money to reward bad deeds and wrongheaded thinking. That’s not what memorials are supposed to do.

    Most importantly, if it is about reconciliation, who is it attempting to reunite? North and South, or whites and blacks? Some might argue it’s the former but it’s definitely not the latter. The statue was erected during the depths of segregation, when African Americans are legally and ethically separated from the rest of society in nearly every way–restaurants, theaters, hospitals, churches, parks, marriage, railroads, jobs, schools, housing, and cemeteries. Justice, revenge, and cruelty towards African Americans is most commonly meted out as insults, cross burnings, beatings, rape, and lynching. This way of life happened not just Montgomery, Alabama, but in Montgomery County, Maryland from the 1860s to the 1960s. Segregation was socially and legally enforced in Rockville for the century following the Civil War. In 1956, integration of the public schools was met with protests. In the 1960s, nearly 30 African Americans had been lynched in Maryland and there were threats of violence when the first black family moved into Hungerford. In 1982, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally at Lake Needwood and Montgomery County led the state in the number of hate crimes against blacks and Jews. Whites in the community may not be offended or bothered by the Confederate monument, but they’re not the ones who are the target of its message—it’s African Americans, Jews, and “others.” And that message keeps on being heard over the decades and will into the future, unless something changes. What message do we want to hear in Rockville today? If we want to preserve the Confederate Monument, it can’t be the only message. Let’s have it face a statue of Thurgood Marshall, the attorney who represented William Gibbs in his civil rights case at the county courthouse, and allow them to have a conversation with us for the next century.

  5. Rockville’s Mayor and Council will hold a special work session to gather, review and discuss possible options for the Confederate soldier monument that sits near the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville Town Center.

    The public is invited to participate in the community discussion. The work session will be held on July 20, at City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave. at 6 p.m.

    Subject matter experts have been invited to attend and present. The Mayor and Council are asking interested members of the public to participate in the discussion and offer thoughts and feedback. The monument and the property it occupies are owned by Montgomery County. The Mayor and Council will consider feedback heard at the work session as they determine possible input to send to the county related to the future of the monument.

    The monument, which was dedicated in 1913, was moved to its current location on the east side of the Red Brick Courthouse in 1971. It depicts a life-sized bronze cavalry Confederate soldier on top of a granite pedestal.

    The Mayor and Council’s regularly scheduled meeting will follow the work session. The work session will air live on Rockville’s channel 11, and will stream live on the city’s website, http://www.rockvillemd.gov.

    If members of the public are unable to attend, but would like to offer feedback, please send an email to mayorcouncil@rockvillemd.gov.

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