Rawl­ings-Blake de­lays de­ci­sion on Con­fed­er­ate memo­ri­als

Mayor rec­om­mends ‘short-term’ sig­nage

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Yvonne Wenger and Luke Broad­wa­ter

Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake an­nounced a “short-term” so­lu­tion Wed­nes­day to deal­ing with Bal­ti­more’s Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments: in­stalling “in­ter­pre­tive sig­nage” to add his­tor­i­cal con­text while she con­sid­ers what to do next.

The move gives her less than three months be­fore she leaves of­fice to de­cide what to do with the four mon­u­ments that stand on city prop­erty.

A com­mis­sion ap­pointed by Rawl­ingsBlake last year to study the mon­u­ments rec­om­mended in Jan­uary that two be re­moved.

“I don’t think any of the com­mis­sion mem­bers were in­ter­ested in eras­ing or rewrit­ing his­tory,” Rawl­ings-Blake said. “But we cer­tainly should work to in­ter­pret for to­day’s con­text.”

The memo­ri­als in­clude the Con­fed­er­ate Sol­diers and Sailors Mon­u­ment on Mount Royal Av­enue, the Con­fed­er­ate Women’s Mon­u­ment on West Univer­sity Park­way, the Roger B. Taney Mon­u­ment on Mount

Ver­non Place, and the Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jack­son Mon­u­ment in the Wyman Park Dell.

The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended get­ting rid of the Taney statue and the trib­ute to Lee and Jack­son. It rec­om­mended al­ter­ing the other two mon­u­ments to in­clude etch­ings with his­tor­i­cal details.

Larry S. Gib­son, a Univer­sity of Mary­land law pro­fes­sor who served on the sev­en­mem­ber com­mis­sion, said Rawl­ingsBlake’s in­ac­tion could be seen as an at­tempt to “let the clock run out” on her term.

Gib­son said the com­mis­sion worked promptly and in good faith to ad­dress the ques­tions be­fore it. Now the an­swer is easy: “Re­mov­ing the Roger Brooke Taney mon­u­ment would take one day. It would take one day and a truck to re­move the Lee and Jack­son mon­u­ment.”

Rawl­ings-Blake called adding signs a “prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion to a com­pli­cated is­sue.”

She said she must con­sider the city’s fis­cal con­straints.

“There’s a vote to re­move it, and then there’s the abil­ity to re­move it,” she said. “You need the funds and you need the re­lo­ca­tion.

“Ev­ery­one can say, ‘You should re­move them all and put them in one big Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment park,’ but who’s pay­ing for it?”

The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended the Lee and Jack­son statue be of­fered to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice to place in Chan­cel- lorsville, Va., where the two Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als last met in 1863.

The com­mis­sion called for the Taney statue to be dis­carded. Taney, the Mary­lan­der who served as the fifth chief jus­tice of the United States, wrote the no­to­ri­ous Dred Scott de­ci­sion, which held AfricanAmer­i­cans could not be U.S. cit­i­zens.

The group said adding his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion to the two ad­di­tional Con­fed­er­ate tributes would help the pub­lic bet­ter un­der­stand their con­text.

Rawl­ings-Blake cre­ated the com­mis­sion in June 2015 amid a na­tional dis­cus­sion about sym­bols of the na­tion’s racist past.

The dis­cus­sion was pro­voked by the shoot­ing deaths of nine African-Amer­i­cans in a his­tor­i­cally black South Carolina church, al­legedly by a white man who had posted pho­to­graphs of him­self with the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag. Dy­lann Roof has been charged with nine counts of mur­der and fed­eral hate crimes vi­o­la­tions.

In Mary­land, Gov. Larry Ho­gan stopped the state from is­su­ing li­cense plates with the im­age of the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag. Bal­ti­more County of­fi­cials moved to change the name of Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park.

Rawl­ings-Blake said she wants the city’s Com­mis­sion for His­tor­i­cal and Ar­chi­tec­tural Preser­va­tion to work with stake­hold­ers to in­stall in­ter­pre­tive signs at all four mon­u­ments. She di­rected the com­mis­sion to work with the city’s Of­fice of Pro­mo­tion and the Arts to con­sider vi­able re­lo­ca­tion pro­pos­als, if the city re­ceives any.

Aaron Bryant, chair­man of the com­mis­sion that re­viewed the mon­u­ments, said it was un­clear ex­actly what the signs would say. “You look at the larger his­tor­i­cal con­text of the Civil War,” he said, then con­sider “how these mon­u­ments rep­re­sent Bal­ti­more’s his­tory.”

City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young be­lieves Rawl­ings-Blake is tak­ing the right steps, a spokesman said.

“It’s a start of a con­ver­sa­tion that is go­ing to carry over into the next ad­min­is­tra­tion,” spokesman Lester Davis said. “This is a sit­u­a­tion that de­serves more thought­ful de­lib­er­a­tion, not less.”

Alan Walden, the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for mayor, said he would leave the four mon­u­ments “ex­actly where they are.” He ques­tioned the wis­dom in adding signs.

“Why? What kind of signs? What would they say? It’s part of Amer­i­can his­tory,” Walden said. “You can’t re­write his­tory to make peo­ple feel good.”

Joshua Har­ris, the Green Party nom­i­nee, said re­mov­ing the two stat­ues rec­om­mended by the task force would be a step to­ward re­pair­ing the dam­age done by Bal­ti­more’s “long his­tory of racial di­vi­sive­ness.”

He ques­tioned spend­ing money on signs now if the mon­u­ments are to be re­moved later.

“Money is not avail­able to re­move them, but we’re go­ing to put money up to put signs up?” Har­ris said.

Cather­ine Pugh, the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, could not be reached for com­ment.

Gib­son said the com­mis­sion is­sued the rec­om­men­da­tions af­ter care­ful de­lib­er­a­tions, mul­ti­ple meet­ings and pub­lic tes­ti­mony. “I amdis­ap­pointed,” he said Wed­nes­day.

About 65,000 Mary­lan­ders fought for the Union; 22,000 fought for the Con­fed­er­acy.

Bal­ti­more has one pub­lic mon­u­ment to the Union.

The Taney and Lee and Jack­son stat­ues have no value in Bal­ti­more, Gib­son said. The task force con­cluded that the other two, how­ever, should re­main as ed­u­ca­tional tools.

Kar­sonya Wise White­head, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and African and African Amer­i­can stud­ies at Loy­ola Univer­sity Mary­land, said Rawl­ings-Blake’s de­ci­sion leaves much un­set­tled.

Lost in the de­ci­sion, White­head said, are the peo­ple af­fected by the stat­ues when they en­counter them, the op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate younger gen­er­a­tions and a chance to help Bal­ti­more over­come its past.

But she said leav­ing the is­sue to the next mayor would cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity.

“These are big is­sues to wres­tle with: These mon­u­ments, the sig­nage, mov­ing them around,” White­head said. In tak­ing on the chal­lenge, she said, the next mayor would help “shape where this city is go­ing to go.”

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