Maryland state song may lose the ‘Northern scum’
By Leah Fabel
Examiner Staff Writer 2/22/09
Descendants of “Northern scum” may find more reason to feel welcome in Maryland if a bill to change the state song passes in the state legislature. The term is found in the last stanza of “Maryland, My Maryland,” as “Huzza! [Maryland] spurns the Northern scum!” It was penned by James Ryder Randall in April 1861, following the bloody Baltimore Riot between Union and Confederate sympathizers in the first days of the Civil War.
A class of fourth-graders at Anne Arundel County’s Glen Burnie Park Elementary found the overall tone sufficiently impolite for 2009 that they complained to their state representatives.
“The song talks about [Abraham] Lincoln as a tyrant, and the ‘Northern scum,’ ” said school librarian Linda Tuck, who oversaw the students’ mission, that began as a research project. “They thought those were insulting terms, and wanted something that better reflects Maryland.”
State Del. Pamela Beidle, D-Anne Arundel, listened to her young constituents. She introduced a bill to change the song from a Confederate ode to a more sentimental set of lyrics written by John T. White in 1894, praising the state’s “streams and wooded hills” and “mountains with their gushing rills.” Like the original, it would be set to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.”
Some Marylanders, however, worry the effort could cloak a chapter of the state’s divided history. Donald Beck, Maryland division commander for the Tennessee-based Sons of Confederate Veterans, remembers as a 6-year-old seeing his great-grandfather’s scars earned on behalf of the South during the Civil War.
“Lincoln hardly got any votes in Maryland in 1860, so the song reflected the sentiments of Marylanders at the time,” Beck said, adding he has testified before the legislature opposing similar efforts made in the past. “If you changed everything based on current attitudes, you’d have to rewrite all of the history books.”
Del. Jolene Ivey, D-Prince George’s, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she “understand[s] the role that the Confederacy played in the history of Maryland, [but] it’s time to no longer glorify that in our state song.”
Tuck said her students agreed. “They feel ownership of Maryland,” she said. “They wanted a song they could sing.”