PHOTO: Courtesy Peerless Rockville.
TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
Local residents were disconcerted in recent weeks to learn that Jesup Blair Park was one of five sites proposed as the new home for Montgomery County’s Civil War Memorial. The County Planning Board, at its Sept 3 meeting, officially urged that Jesup Blair be removed from consideration. Their recommendation, as forwarded to County Executive Ike Leggett and the County Council, prefers relocation to the Beall-Dawson historic park or to private property, leaving the two remaining county parks only as a last resort.
Why this sudden need to move the statue, which has stood in the center of Rockville for the last 102 years? Answer: Because it honors Montgomery County residents who chose to fight for the South.
In the wake of the June 17 massacre in Charleston, Confederate flags and memorials across the country face intense scrutiny. Many in this county were shocked to discover that the life-size bronze sculpture standing in a grove of trees next to the red brick courthouse was in fact a cavalryman representing those county residents who joined the Southern cause. The inscription promises to “never forget.”
By July 17, the ensuing debate over the monument’s presence on county government property prompted County Executive Leggett to respond: “The removal question is resolved. The only question now is where it should go.” When spray paint defaced the statue ten days later, the monument was encased in a wooden box pending resolution of its fate.
The statue in 1928, when it was in a small, triangular park near the Rockville, MD Montgomery County courthouse. It was moved to the courthouse grounds in 1971, part of major renovations in Rockville. Photo courtesy Peerless Rockville.
Leggett directed local historians to meet with county staff to iron out the options. The group rejected scuttling the monument as as it would erase important facts of history. Leggett had already ruled out leaving it in place. The group focused on a list of possible locations – with Beall-Dawson history park leading the list.
All agreed (including Leggett) that appropriate historical interpretation is a key component. The story is more than just slavery and the Civil War – why more county residents fought for the Confederacy than for the Union, what the unveiling of the monument in 1913 Rockville says about county politics, and tracing the county’s evolution through the school desegregation era to the multicultural county of today.
Matt Logan, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Historical Society, headquartered at the Beall-Dawson history park, is likely to inherit this challenging task. In a letter to Leggett and the Council, he welcomes the opportunity to “explore the ways race, privilege, and access in the postbellum Jim Crow era helped to shape everything that we now consider familiar.”
Next up? Online public comments end September 9. Leggett takes his case to the Rockville Historical Commission for approval on September 17. And the Council weighs in, including on the issue of financing the cost of relocation, even for the two-and-a-half block trip from the Red Brick Courthouse to Beall-Dawson.
As Bill Offutt, a local historian with deep roots in the county, observed: “That cavalryman deserves to stand, to remind us of what has been, and who we were.”