Montgomery County’s Own Confederate Monument on the Courthouse Lawn
By Mark Uncapher
This past week, considerable media attention has focused on South Carolina’s decision to remove a Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds. A national conversation has been triggered, not just about how the Civil War is remembered in this country, but also about the role of individual states and communities in that war.
These days, most Montgomery residents passing the old Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville rarely give the county’s “Thin Gray Line Confederate Monument” in Courthouse Square Park a second glance. The life-sized bronze statue of a cavalry private stands on a light gray granite pedestal. On it an inscription reads “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland. That we through life may not forget to live the thin gray line.” The base of the monument reads “1861 -CSA-1865.”
Erected in 1913, the Rockville monument was sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the United Confederate Veterans in order to commemorate Montgomery County residents who served in the Confederacy. In addition, there are other Confederate memorials in the county in Beallsville and Silver Spring.
The monument originally stood facing south in Courthouse Square, directly in front of the Red Brick Courthouse. It was moved to the east side lawn of the courthouse in 1971, as part of an urban renewal project. According to the Montgomery Sentinel, as recently as 1994 the Sons of Confederate Veterans sponsored a rededication of the statue, with an audience that included then-county council member Ike Leggett and then-Rockville mayor Doug Duncan.
When the Civil War began in 1861, 5,421 of Montgomery County’s 18,000 residents were enslaved, and 1,552 were free blacks. The county also had 760 slave owners. In the election of 1860 Abraham Lincoln received just 50 votes, only 2% of the county’s total. (Montgomery County Republicans have been improving on that percentage ever since.)
Because Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation in January, 1863 stated “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free” applied only to states in rebellion, it never applied to Maryland. Not until the adoption of a new Maryland Constitution in November, 1864 did slavery become illegal in our state.
Although a Maryland law in 1872 required the construction of public schools for black students, the Montgomery County school board resisted. So-called “Rosenwald schools” in the county included 15 elementary schools paid for in part by Julius Rosenwald through a foundation established in 1917 to support black schools in Southern states. While the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawed public school segregation in 1954, it was not until 1961 that the Montgomery County Public School System could be considered integrated.
Certainly the Rockville monument’s sponsors intended it to portray the Confederacy’s supporters in a sympathetic light. Today, it instead provides a vivid reminder of the long struggle toward racial justice not only in our country, but in our county as well.