Testimony on the Confederate Statue…

Here’s my testimony to the Rockville Historic District Commission tonight.  I’m delighted that later in the evening, the HDC voted 4-0 to approve Montgomery County’s request to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse:

Thank you for allowing me to speak on this issue tonight. My name is Tom Moore. I serve as an elected representative of the citizens of Rockville on the Rockville City Council. I appear before you tonight in my capacity as an individual Councilmember, and not as a representative of the body as a whole.

I speak tonight in strong support of Montgomery County’s application to move the Confederate Statue from the grounds of Rockville’s Red Brick Courthouse.

The application before you tonight regarding the Confederate Statue is different than most that you see. This is not a homeowner trying to replace a roof on a historic house. This is not someone trying to tear down an historic building.

In organizing my thoughts to bring them to you tonight, I took a look at the Secretary of the Interior’s Rehabilitation Standards, which you use to evaluate applications.

This reminded me of how different a matter this really is. How different the basic purpose of the application is. The usual purpose of an application before the HDC is the “rehabilitation” of a building. The federal standards define “rehabilitation” as, quote,

the process of returning a building or buildings to a state of utility, through repair or alteration, which makes possible an efficient use while preserving those portions and features of the building and its site and environment which are significant to its historic, architectural, and cultural values as determined by the Secretary

…unquote. That’s not what’s going on here, and I would caution you against relying on your standards in your usual manner.

The second standard, which is one of those at issue tonight, states,

The historic character of a property shall be retained and preserved. The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.

It’s important to keep the purpose of this application in mind as you consider how this standard might apply.

The change the County proposes is not an attempt to return the Red Brick Courthouse to a state of utility. Montgomery County is not trying to cheap out on repairing the windows or the roof. The County is not trying to tear down a great old building because it wants to put up some ugly new thing. I’m sure the County has come before this Commission many times with applications that do seek to do those things, and I hope you gave those applications an appropriately skeptical look.

But the County’s purpose tonight in asking to remove this statue is very different. It is to right the wrong caused by the very presence of this statue on the courthouse grounds. To help end the pain that Confederate symbols stir in too many of our citizens.

I ask you to weigh the importance and significance of both of the symbols involved here – the Confederate Statue and the Red Brick Courthouse itself. This statue soils our historic courthouse’s promise of equal justice for all.

There is no place at a courthouse in the United States of America for a statue calling those who fought to preserve the profoundly unequal institution of slavery ‘heroes,’ for a statue asking us to love forever those who killed hundreds of thousands of United States Army soldiers in an attempt to preserve that profoundly unequal system.

As the President said in his eulogy in Charleston, removing Confederate symbols “would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought – the cause of slavery – was wrong.”

Again, this is not a matter of whether approving a metal roof on a house in the West End is better than approving asphalt shingles.

This is a matter of who we are as a City. The presence of this statue in Rockville’s downtown distorts Rockville’s role in the Civil War. It reflects exceptionally poorly on this City for us to host a statue proclaiming undying love for the Confederate Army. That was not Rockville then, and it is certainly not Rockville now.

I ask that you support Montgomery County’s application to move this statue from its deeply inappropriate current site.  Doing so will not erase our history, nor will it fix the problems of race that still plague this nation. But it would be, as the President said, “one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.”

This Commission, above all others in this City, should strive to provide an honest accounting of our history. Please do so tonight.

Thank you.