The Gen. John Henry Winder historical marker’s placement on the front lawn of the Wicomico County Courthouse is embroiled in controversy because of recent calls for its removal.
Winder was born near Nanticoke, a graduate and instructor at West Point, a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars, and manager of all the Confederate military prisons east of the Mississippi River.
Some see today’s discussion of the issue as suspiciously tied to the attention to, and removal of, Confederate memorials across the country.
Yet this is not the first time there’s been a call for the historical marker’s removal.
Longtime Wicomico County Council member and military veteran Edward T. Taylor raised his concerns in 2014, long before there was such nationwide controversy. Taylor saw the marker’s placement on the courthouse grounds as a sign of disrespect to many in the African American community.
Now others are asking for the marker’s removal.
James Yamakawa leads a local racial justice advocacy organization and began the latest discussion by initiating a petition to remove the historical marker. He said he feels the courthouse grounds is not the appropriate place for a marker honoring a controversial Confederate figure, who supported the cause of slavery.
Yamakawa also points out the marker is within a few yards of where the infamous 1931 lynching occurred, and near where an early roadside tavern sometimes held slaves for sale.
Others counter they don’t want that history brushed aside.
Yamakawa disputes the notion that he and others are trying to erase history, saying that all history should be told, but that there are “bigger issues at play here than just one sign.”
And Edward Taylor is not alone in saying that African Americans feel the pain of disrespect or anger because of the sign’s location.
Yamakawa and others contend that Winder had no real connection to the history of either Salisbury or the courthouse. Some scratch their heads wondering how it got there in the first place.
Route 13 location
The courthouse grounds were not the marker’s original home. Sometime in July 1965, the marker was erected on South Salisbury Boulevard, by the Wicomico Historical Society and the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission, at the site of the former Messick Ice Plant, which is now the Evolution Craft Beer Public House.
A photo of the respected David A. Grier, then president of the historical society, standing next to that marker, amid traffic and telephone poles.
Within days there were calls for its removal, with complaints centering on the marker’s potentially dangerous highway location.
In 1983, the marker was relocated to the courthouse. The county approved a request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization to install the marker there, as they were seeking a safe location for it, as it had been knocked down at its original location.
Today, no one seems to have the opinion that history should be eliminated or ignored. The question is where and how that history is depicted.
Markers and memorials should have a specific connection to where they are erected.
History is best shared in other ways, taught in discussions, writings and museums.
If a marker on the courthouse grounds causes pain, confusion and anger — intended or not — then those feelings ought to be seriously considered.
As Wicomico County approaches its 150th anniversary and showcases its restored courthouse, this would be a good time to clear its lawn, to move the marker to a proper home, to make the courthouse inviting and most importantly, welcoming.
Local historian Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.