HPC Declares Taney, Johnson Busts Contribute To Historic District

The  commission will vote next month on whether to remove the two.

Frederick, Md. (KM)  In a six-to-one vote Thursday night, the Frederick Historic Preservation Commission found the bust of Roger Brook Taney and an accompanying plaque, as well as Thomas Johnson’s bust  in front of city hall do contribute to the Historic District.

The Board of Aldermen last year agreed to remove the Taney bust because he wrote the Dred Scott Decision in 1857 when he was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. That decision said that African-Americans had no rights that White people need to respect. That opinion from the High Court was one of the events that led to the Civil War.

Many in the audience called for keeping the busts in front of City Hall. OJ Keller with the Francis Scott Key Foundation said Taney is considered a part of Frederick’s history. “You, as the members of the Historic Preservation Commission, are duties bound to preserve history, not to change it,” he said.

Darlene Lasette whose African-American, said removing Taney’s bust would not be helpful, “I think he should be remembered for that decision. It was hurtful to the family who was trying to get their freedom, and to subsequent many other families who suffered in slavery. But we need to remember that history, and I think it should stay,” she said.

Other speakers, including Peggy Defore, said there’s a lot of unhappiness about history going round, and removing that busts will not redress those wrongs. “Because in a free society, we’re not supposed to ban books, and try to tear down statues and send our poets to Siberia if we don’t like things. We’re supposed to encourage discussion and get ideas out in the open,” she said.

Taney was a lawyer, politician and jurist who served as the 5th US Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1836-1864. He also resided in Frederick and practiced law from 1800 to 1823.

Johnson was also a lawyer, politician and jurist who served as Governor of Maryland 1777-1779. He was also Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court 1791-1793. Johnson purchased land in Frederick which he named “Rose Hill.”

The bust of Thomas Johnson was erected in 1929 in front of the City Hall when it served as the county court house. Roger Brook Taney’s bust was put in place in 1931. The plaque explaining the Taney’s Dred Scott decision was erected in 2009.

In its report, the Historic Preservation Staff said these two statues and the plaque are not contributing to the site and the Historic District, claiming that accomplishments of Taney and Johnson took place outside of Frederick.

Stephan Parnes, the Vice Chairman of the Commission, took issue with that conclusion. “They are contributing resources whether you like what Roger Taney said, whether you care about our former governor. They are contributing resources and that’s where I am at this point,” he said. “They were conceived, designed and meant to be here for posterity and history.”

The Commission is expected to decide next month whether the two busts should remain in front of City Hall, or be removed. If they’re removed, a city official says they could go to Mount Olivet Cemetery.

By Kevin McManus