111 W. Montgomery Avenue
Rockville, Maryland 20850
City of Rockville
Confederate Statue Worksession
July 20, 2015
Remarks of Matthew Logan, Executive Director, Montgomery County Historical Society
Thank you for the opportunity to make some remarks tonight. Let me begin by talking a little bit about Montgomery History’s beliefs and assumptions, since that is really what this whole debate is all about. I’d then like to make a modest recommendation.
The Montgomery County Historical Society believes everyone has a story that is intrinsically valuable. We believe that the free exchange of ideas is the bedrock of a free and open democracy. We value diversity and debate, differences and reasoned exchange. We believe that our future is not predetermined or that powers beyond our control determine our course. Montgomery History believes our home, our County, is one of the finest in the country. We also believe the future of this County is brighter than ever before.
At the root of our optimism is a belief that understanding our history, our past decisions, is the key to making better ones in the future. And, more importantly, we believe that history never dies. Episodes may fade in and out, fashions will come and go, but our past never goes away. We can’t hide from our history, nor can we ignore it.
The Confederate Statue is a tangible reminder of a chapter in Montgomery County’s past. It symbolizes the beliefs and aspirations of some portion of our population 100 years ago. Whether you think it is the noble embodiment of your Southern heritage or a thinly veiled symbol of racist ambitions, it is still your statue. It was a gift to us from an earlier generation. Unfortunately, we can’t pick and choose what we receive from the past. Sometimes you get a Strathmore and sometimes you get a Superfund site. The point is, that statue is an artifact that we have inherited and now we need to deal with it in a way that reflects our values and our beliefs.
It is very possible, indeed quite likely, that a majority of the current residents of the County are aghast that a symbol that suggests support for a system that enslaved millions of Africans and their descendants can be found on public property in the heart of our County seat. If that assumption is correct, a leader would feel it is her duty to remove such an objectionable and inflammatory symbol from our midst. She would want to ensure that this place is safe and welcoming for everyone. In this context, the desire to take it down and get it out of sight RIGHT NOW would make a lot of sense, but I believe it is not the best course of action for us at this time.
Instead, I believe we need to use this opportunity, the renewed attention around Confederate symbols, to not only resolve how we want to deal with our statue specifically, but also to demonstrate to the rest of the country how Montgomery County deals with the sticky and uncomfortable and divisive issues every community has to face from time to time.
I believe we need to convene a group of people—representative of the County as it is now constituted— to determine the statue’s fate. Should it stay put with an interpretive, explanatory panel? Or perhaps a similar statue of a Yankee soldier needs to be erected to balance the picture. Maybe it needs to be relocated to a place where it can better tell the story of how the North and the South met in this County. Or maybe there is another idea for how to resolve this thorny issue.
In addition, I would like to use this occasion to launch a broader discussion about how the symbols of our past affect us to this day and how we can be true to the past while building a more perfect county. If there is sufficient interest, Montgomery History would like to host a community discussion to explore the civic responsibilities of life in a multicultural and diverse community.
It is really important that we get this right. Our County is a crazy, wonderful mix of people from all over the globe. Over one-third of us were born outside of the US. This statue probably carries little significance to many of these newcomers, but the way in which we solve our disputes and right our wrongs matters enormously as it will affect our community for generations to come. In that respect, the way we resolve this dispute is going to be more important that the ultimate fate of the statue. That’s the part I hope we get right. And that’s the legacy I hope we will pass down to the next generation.