No more foot-dragging
Our view: Baltimore’s commission on Confederate-related monuments made a clear case for which to keep and which to scrap; the mayor should follow through
The final report by the commission that debated what to do with Baltimore’s Confederate-related monuments makes a clear and compelling case: We should remove two statutes that don’t illuminate Baltimore’s history during the Civil War years and the decades thereafter, and we should keep two that do, provided they are put in appropriate context. It’s not that complicated, and we don’t understand why Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is dragging her feet about putting the recommendation into effect.
Those who worry that Baltimore is on the verge of whitewashing its history by removing statues of former Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney — author of the infamous Dred Scott decision — and of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson would do well to read the commission’s report. In content and context, the two statues the commission recommended keeping — the Confederate Women’s Monument near the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus and the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument on Mount Royal Avenue — reflect far more poorly on Baltimore’s history than do the two that would be removed. They are testaments not only to the fact that many in Baltimore supported the South during the Civil War but also the extent to which city leaders spent the ensuing decades mythologizing the Confederacy as a noble, lost cause. They are going to require some heavy-duty contextualization.
Maryland’s sympathies were split during the Civil War, but the Confederate monuments that remain in Baltimore are, the commission found, testaments to “lost cause” mythology that was prevalent throughout the South in the decades after the war ended. It downplayed slavery as an issue and exalted the nobility of Confederate soldiers. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument includes a winged, angelic figure representing glory clutching a laurel wreath of victory in one hand and a dying Confederate soldier in the other. The statue is inscribed with “gloria victis,” or glory to the vanquished, and with “deo vindice,” the Confederate States of America motto, which means “God our vindicator.” It was dedicated in1903 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and reflects enduring nostalgia for the Southern cause in Baltimore.
The Confederate Women’s monument comes from the same impulse. Conceived and erected in the 1910s, also by Daughters of the Confederacy, it depicts one woman standing erect and gazing into the distance while another kneels to tend to a dying Confederate soldier. The commission notes in its report that the statue resembles a classic “representation of the Virgin Mary holding the dying body of Christ” and that the bed of wheat the soldier lies on is a “symbol of sacrifice and resurrection.” Though a bit subtler than the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, it, too, sanctifies the Southern cause and wishes for its revival.
The Jackson/Lee statue of the generals at their final meeting on the eve of the battle of Chancellorsville, includes inscriptions and Moving Baltimore’s Lee-Jackson memorial to Chancellorsville likely isn’t feasible. imagery designed to convey nobility, but it arose out of the bequest of an individual, J. Henry Ferguson, who had considered the men heroes, rather than out of a general movement. Dedicated in 1948, it depicts two men without significant ties to Maryland at an event that took place in Virginia. The Taney statue is a replica of one that sits outside the State House in Annapolis, which is balanced by a more prominent statue of Maryland’s more celebrated Supreme Court justice, civil rights hero Thurgood Marshall. Both the Jackson/Lee and Taney statues can be removed without erasing Maryland’s past.
As for the practical issues involved in getting rid of them, the idea that the Jackson/Lee statue could be given to the National Park Service and relocated to the site of the battle of Chancellorsville, while intuitively appealing, is a non-starter. A Park Service official declined to say whether the agency would accept the statue onthe grounds that it has not formally been asked to. But NPS policy states that the agency “will not acquire historic structures for relocation to parks unless those structures were removed from the park and are necessary to achieve the park purpose or authorized legislation,” and “with regard to Civil War parks, new commemorative works will not be approved, except where specifically authorized by legislation.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake should offer the two statues up to any takers, though that may not work. It’s a buyer’s market now with regard to Confederate-related monuments. Frederick is also having trouble finding someone who will accept the bust of Taney that is displayed outside its city hall. But no matter. Surely Baltimore has a warehouse where they can be stored for the time being. Just because no one else has stepped forward to display them doesn’t mean Baltimore should have to.