LIANE HANSEN, host:
Maryland's state song is patriotic. The tune is familiar. But read between the lines.
(Soundbite of song, "Maryland, My Maryland")
Unidentified Man: The despot's heel is on thy shore, Maryland. His torch is at thy temple door, Maryland. Avenge the patriotic gore that flecked the streets of Baltimore, and be the battle queen of yore, Maryland, my Maryland.
HANSEN: The despot in this case is Abraham Lincoln. The lyrics were written during the early days of the Civil War and became something of a rallying cry against the north. But do the words make much sense today? Not to a group of fourth graders from a Maryland elementary school. That's why they made a trip to the Maryland House of Delegates.
Ms. ANTOINETTE LEE: Hello, delegates. My name is Antoinette Lee from Glen Burnie Park Elementary School. I'm speaking in favor of the House Bill 1241. I would like to change the Maryland state song because it calls the northern states of the United States northern scum.
HANSEN: Yeah, that line about northern states being scum is in the song, too. The song was written by Maryland native James Ryder Randall, a Confederate sympathizer. It started as a poem, a protest of Union troops marching through Baltimore. It didn't become the state song until 1939, when they put it to the tune of "O Tannenbaum." Antoinette Lee and her fellow fourth graders have been studying the song with school library media specialist Linda Tuck.
Ms. LINDA TUCK (Library Media Specialist): We have two fourth grade classes here, and we took a vote and overwhelmingly both class voted that they wanted to change the song and do something about it.
HANSEN: Tuck says the students then wrote and sent about 50 letters to Maryland's delegates. Delegate Pamela Beidle is co-sponsoring the bill to change the song and use a poem written in 1894 by Maryland teacher John T. White. Here's Antoinette Lee again singing a verse from the proposed new version.
Ms. LEE: (Singing) We dedicate our song to thee, Maryland, my Maryland. The home of light and liberty, Maryland, my Maryland.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. LEE: (Singing) We love thy streams and wooded hills, thy mountains with their gushing rills. Thy scenes our heart with rapture fills, Maryland, my Maryland.
HANSEN: Tell us about your own state song. Any lyrics you'd like to change or see go? Let us know. Go to our blog, npr.org/soapbox.