The bronze bust of an iconic “pro-slavery” figure with ties to Frederick could be removed from its post outside Frederick City Hall under a proposal from Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak.
Kuzemchak detailed Thursday a plan to relocate the bust of Roger Brooke Taney from outside City Hall to a museum or other location.
The fifth chief justice of the United States is best known for writing the court’s opinion in the landmark 1857 Dred Scott decision, which prevented African-Americans from suing federal court on the grounds that they had no rights as American citizens.
Kuzemchak characterized the decision as one of the most reviled in history and Taney’s opinion “the most extreme pro-slavery position.” She framed the bust’s removal as an attempt not to rewrite history, but to correct it, at least in terms of the statue’s presence at City Hall.
The bronze bust was built and placed in front of the building in 1931; at the time, the building was used as the Frederick County Courthouse. The statue’s presence was not reconsidered after the building became City Hall in 1986.
“The city has never made an affirmative decision to place the bust in front of City Hall,” Kuzemchak said.
She also noted that though Taney began his political career as a lawyer operating in the city of Frederick, he was not a Frederick resident by the time he became chief justice.
‘Frederick’s Confederate flag’
The proposal drew support from several city residents who attended the meeting.
Roger Wilson, the government affairs and public policy director for Frederick County, described it as a “step forward,” while resident Peter Samuel congratulated Kzuemchak on an action long overdue.
Samuel said Taney’s values directly conflict with the spirit and values of Frederick, both 150 years ago and today.
“Our hero was Barbara Fritchie, who defied the Confederates,” he said. “This man was an extreme Confederate and slavery supporter.”
Willie Mahone, a Frederick lawyer, likened the bust to hate speech.
“It does not bespeak well for the Frederick city government to have that hate speech sitting outside City Hall,” Mahone said. “This is Fred city’s Confederate flag.”
Mahone named the Roger Brooke Taney House, a Frederick County historic site intended to re-create the life and times of Taney and his family during his time as a Frederick attorney, as a more suitable home for the bust.
“Put it somewhere where antiquated, passé ideals ... exist,” he said.
Alderman Josh Bokee also said he supported the bust’s removal, but wanted to continue discussion on the proposal at a future city workshop.
The proposal will be presented at a public hearing, with more opportunity for comment from community members, before the aldermen vote to approve or reject the change.