Winder marker removed from Courthouse yard

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver and county Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg stand by the pole from which the Winder marker was removed Friday.

A historical marker commemorating Confederate Gen. John Henry Winder that has been a source of controversy in recent years was quietly and unceremoniously removed from the Wicomico County Courthouse on Friday morning.

Mike Dunn, President and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, was one of only a handful of witnesses to the sign’s removal, and called it “an act of leadership and courage” on the part of County Executive Bob Culver.

“I told him how proud of him I was,” Dunn said.

The historical marker’s removal follows similar efforts across the country to remove statues and other Confederate symbols following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. Resulting protests have morphed into a movement to remove symbols that glorified an era of slavery and the so-called Southern “Lost Cause”

In the past week, statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, have been removed in some cities, NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag at its races and Nashville-based country music group Lady Antebellum changed its name to Lady A.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day – who is now on active duty with the Army National Guard – has advocated for the Gen. Winder sign’s removal for several years.

“After three years of lobbying, two petitions and a documentary, the Winder sign is down! A monument to a treasonous murderer who never once set foot in our city, planted on the site of the second to last lynching in Maryland — and the doorstep of the halls of justice — is finally gone. Thank you Bob Culver and county administration for hearing us!” he said in a Facebook post.

An effort to remove the Winder sign was launched in 2017 by James Yamakawa of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice. A petition he started got about 400 signatures, but another petition to keep the sign there got close to 700.

At the time, county officials refused to remove the marker.

But a new petition started on Wednesday by Blair Carey, a local business owner, got more than 1,100 signatures in the first 24 hours. His next step was to try and argue the case before the County Council.

Then he learned the sign had been removed.

“What Mr. Culver did this morning meant a lot,” he said. “it gives me a lot of hope we can face these other issues.”

Culver, who is battling cancer, did not return a phone call, but he posted a statement on social media.

“As County Executive of Wicomico County, I removed the General John Henry Winder sign that has stood on the property of the Wicomico County Courthouse for many years. By doing so, I am hopeful the citizens of Wicomico County understand and reflect my belief that monuments such as this are offensive to many in the county. I hope this action is one of many steps that will help heal our community.”

Amber Green, a community activist and youth advocate, said Carey’s petition to have the historical marker removed was successful because it got the support of Salisbury’s business community – something that was lacking before.

“We knew that this would be the piece to get it done,” she said.

The historical marker in Salisbury was first erected in 1965 on South Salisbury Boulevard near the Messick Ice Plant by the Wicomico County Historical Society and the Maryland Civil War Centennial Commission. After the sign had been knocked over a few times in traffic accidents, it eventually was moved to the courthouse lawn. The Wicomico County Council approved the request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to move it, and a dedication was held on Sept. 25, 1983, according to newspaper reports.

Green said advocates of the sign’s removal don’t want to erase history, they just want it to see the whole story presented.

“It was just inaccurate history on that marker,” she said.

The marker accurately stated that Winder was born in 1800 at a plantation near Nanticoke in what was then still part of Somerset County, that he graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army before joining the Rebel cause.

But the sign doesn’t mention that Winder was in charge of military prisons in Alabama and Georgia, including the infamous Andersonville prison where at least 10,000 Union prisoners of war died because of maltreatment and disease.

Winder’s subordinate, Henry Wirz was later tried and executed for war crimes. Winder died of a heart attack the same year before going to trial.

“In all probability, the responsibility for the conditions at Andersonville should fall on the Winder’s shoulders as much as on Captain Wirz,” according to the National Park Service which operates the Andersonville National Historic Site.

In 2014, the late Edward T. Taylor, a former member of the Wicomico County Council, called for the removal of the historical marker.

“Commemorative markers on public courthouse lawns such as this should be reserved for national heroes whose life and national contributions are celebrated,” Taylor said in a letter to The Daily Times.

As your community newspaper, we are committed to making Salisbury a better place. You can help support our mission by making a voluntary contribution to the newspaper.