The bronze statue of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney was funded by the Maryland State legislature in 1867, only two short years after the Civil War. During the funding debate, pronouncements were made that the State of Maryland was erecting the statue to declare that Taney’s Dred Scott Decision was “just, righteous and right”. The Confederate sympathizing Democrat Legislature placed the statue at the front door of the State House to declare that regardless of the results of the Civil War, white dominance would not be interrupted.
Taney was disgraced immediately when he wrote the 1857 infamous Dred Scott Decision. In it he declared that blacks were inferior and had no constitutional rights which any white man was obligated to honor. The Dred Scott Decision was roundly denounced not just for the overt racism, but also because Taney’s judicial framework was heavily flawed. After his death in 1864, Congress refused to commission his official portrait. Today, the Dred Scott Decision is still considered the worst judicial finding of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Current proposals before the Maryland Legislature call for the removal or destruction of the statue. This is an understandable counteraction to the place of honor the Taney statue has held which blatantly endorses racism.
We believe that there is a better way: keep the Taney statue and use it to teach. Arrange the Taney statue with a new statue of Frederick Douglass. Douglass and Taney were both from Maryland, they shared the national stage together at the same time, on opposite sides of the Civil War. The new statue of Douglass should have him standing with a posture and look that is willful, positive and determined. His statue would stand face to face with the Taney statue as a symbol of the triumph of progressive ideals. Let us depict Douglass as he lived his life: he stood up against Taney, and voiced his powerful opposition to Taney’s corrupt view of the Constitution and humanity.
Let’s build this new monument now to honor Douglass on his 200th birthday, to celebrate how he stood up to the privileged racism of Taney, show that the placement of the Taney statue in 1872 was an act of State sponsored racist hatred and fear. Let’s turn the Taney statue into a monument that explains how the pernicious tentacles of racism still hold our society hostage to bitterness and hate. Let’s make the Taney statue sit on his privileged seat of comfort until a new generation does not know what racism is. Then, and only then, his statue can be moved off to a dark corner and the obscurity it so richly deserves.