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
Congressman Chris Van Hollen: Van Hollen Urges Immediate Removal of Confederate Statue in Rockville
Rockville Nights: Rockville Confederate statue hearing draws a diversity of opinions
Rockville Patch: Group Offers Ideas on What to Do with Confederate Statue
The Seventh State: Civil War Skirmish in Rockville
The walkway around the “Spirit of Rockville” fountain at the Red Brick Courthouse is undergoing a facelift, thanks to a recent commission from the Cultural Arts Commission. Artist Diedre Saunder and craftsman Peter Tabri are installing a huge mosaic carpet around the fountain. The colored tendrils are made of smalti (pieces of brightly colored glass) while the field is commercial floor tile broken into random pieces and set in a bed of latex adhesive. They’re about 75% finished and it’s slow back-breaking work, but portions are already grouted so you can get a sense of the final appearance. I expect it’ll be finished in July, but in the meantime, stop by and get a preview.
If this work looks familiar, Diedre and Peter also worked on the snake that envelopes the Elwood Smith Recreation Center as well as the entry wall at the Croydon Creek Nature Center.
I’ll be leading a 1.5-hour walking tour of Rockville’s downtowns for Peerless Rockville on Saturday, May 7 at 10 am. Wear comfortable shoes, be prepared for the weather, and consider enjoying lunch afterwards (unfortunately, some of the tour is not accessible to persons with limited mobility). Space is limited so please register in advance with Peerless Rockville.