What they won’t be playing: ‘Maryland, My Maryland.’ Photo by The Racing Biz.

“Maryland, My Maryland” remains – controversially – Maryland’s state song. But it won’t be heard this Preakness day – or likely ever again at Pimlico – snapping a tradition that dated back to 1909.

A company spokesperson confirmed the move September 10.

The Maryland Jockey Club’s decision to ditch the song came as part of the company’s, and the nation’s, reckoning with issues of race and racism that have come to the fore this year following the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man killed by police.

Maryland, My Maryland,” written in 1861 by James Ryder Randall, was adopted by the General Assembly as the state song in 1939. Randall wrote his poem to spur Maryland to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

In the poem, Lincoln and the Union are described as despotic, tyrannical, and finally, as “Northern scum.”

Typically – as at the Preakness – only one of the song’s nine stanzas is sung, that being the relatively anodyne third stanza.

But the whitewashing only goes so far, and over the years, legislators have mounted numerous unsuccessful efforts to rewrite the song – or to adopt a less fraught state song.

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Those efforts got a major boost June 23 when, following Floyd’s late May death, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) announced she would lead an effort in the 2021 legislative session to scrap the song.

In response, the MJC on June 25 released a brief statement:

“The Maryland Jockey Club is respectful and supportive of Speaker Jones’ move to remove ‘Maryland My Maryland’ as the state song, and we look forward to starting a new tradition for Preakness 145.” 

A company spokesperson would not elaborate further but did confirm September 10 that the MJC intends to start that new tradition – and eliminate “Maryland, My Maryland” – this year.

Played after the call to post for the Preakness, “Maryland, My Maryland” has played a role similar to –if less iconic than – “My Old Kentucky Home” prior to the Kentucky Derby. The songs are similar in age – “My Old Kentucky Home” was first published in 1853 – and have similarly challenging histories.

“My Old Kentucky Home” was written to represent a slave’s lament at having been sent farther South and away from Kentucky. Given that history – and the protests that have roiled Louisville for months after Breonna Taylor, a young African-American woman, was killed by police – there had been calls for Churchill Downs to eliminate the song from Derby day. The company instead played the song, but without lyrics.

NYRA, which owns Belmont Park, has largely avoided song controversy. The pre-Belmont Stakes song for the last several years has been the brassy but inoffensive “New York, New York.”

Opinion: Racing’s time for choosing

The move to eliminate “Maryland, My Maryland” puts the MJC ahead of the curve. Maryland’s legislature begins its 2021 session in January. In addition to the push from Speaker Jones, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) has indicated that he supports repealing or revising the state song.

For similar reasons, the MJC also recently announced that its oldest stake, the Grade 2 Dixie, would revert to its original name and run this year and going forward as the Dinner Party Stakes. The winner of the first Dinner Party, in 1870, was Preakness, whose name, of course, adorns the state’s most important race.