Plaque doesn’t be­long in the State House

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

If the State House Trust thinks sim­ply al­ter­ing a Con­fed­er­ate plaque that hangs in the State House will help re­solve is­sues over its of­fen­sive­ness, they are sadly mis­taken and com­pletely missed the point.

Etch­ing off an im­print of the Con­fed­er­ate flag and re­plac­ing it with the Mary­land ban­ner, doesn’t erase what the plaque sym­bol­izes.

Mem­bers of the trust seem to be­lieve that we some­how need to rec­og­nize both Con­fed­er­ate and Union sol­diers, as the plaque does, in an ap­par­ent ode to the fact that Mary­land was di­vided dur­ing the Civil War. We are sup­posed to give equal play to these dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. That ig­nores the fact that the Con­fed­er­ates rep­re­sented a side that wanted to keep African Amer­i­cans bonded in bru­tal slav­ery. Any­thing that dis­counts that is a white-washed nar­ra­tive that sim­ply isn’t true.

What an af­front and dis­re­spect­ful re­buke to Speaker of the House Adri­enne A. Jones, the first African Amer­i­can per­son to hold the po­si­tion and who made re­mov­ing the plaque one of her first un­der­tak­ings. Ms. Jones was the only per­son on the four-mem­bertrust to vote against a re­designed plaque, ex­press­ing her dis­ap­point­ment that such an of­fen­sive sym­bol would re­main pub­licly dis­played.

We agree with Ms. Jones, who called it the “last Con­fed­er­ate ves­tige” at the State House. There was no com­pro­mise in the Civil War — one side lost, and the other won. Nei­ther should there be a so-called com­pro­mise about the fate of the plaque, which the state trust should have re­moved rather than agree to re­design. Keep­ing it pub­licly dis­played where it cur­rently hangs near the Old House of Del­e­gates Cham­ber on the first floor of the State House sends the wrong mes­sage of sym­pa­thiz­ing with the los­ing side and its im­moral stance.

And make no mis­take: The newly de­signed ver­sion will con­tinue to make the same state­ment it al­ways has. An in­scrip­tion on the plaque clearly states that its pur­pose is to en­sure that Mary­land “leaves for pos­ter­ity ev­i­dence for her re­mem­brance of her nearly 63,000 na­tive sons who served in the Union forces and the more than 22,000 in those of the Con­fed­er­acy in the War Be­tween the States.” Mem­bers of the plaque’s ded­i­cat­ing com­mis­sion also made no judg­ments on who was the right or wrong side, the in­scrip­tion said.

Also sig­nif­i­cant to note, is that the plaque was ded­i­cated by the Mary­land Civil War Cen­ten­nial Com­mis­sion in 1964, dur­ing an era where these types of Con­fed­er­ate me­mo­ri­als and re­mem­brances were erected and dis­played not to pre­serve his­tory, but in a stub­born protest and ob­jec­tion to the changes tak­ing place at the time. These stat­ues typ­i­cally went up dur­ing two main time pe­ri­ods of racial an­i­mos­ity in the coun­try, the early 1900s and the ’50s and ’60s as the civil rights move­ment gained mo­men­tum. They were of­ten dis­played in high pro­file places such as the grounds of govern­ment build­ings, or in this case, on the walls.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Ruther­ford, a mem­ber of the trust, is cor­rect when he says that we don’t need to erase his­tory. The his­tory of slav­ery is for­ever linked to the in­equal­i­ties that African Amer­i­cans have en­dured and still ex­pe­ri­ence to­day, and we­must never for­get it. Put that his­tory in a mu­seum or a li­brary ar­chives, don’t cel­e­brate it in such a pub­lic dis­play in a place that is sup­posed to rep­re­sent our com­mon val­ues.

The vi­o­lent white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesvill­e in 2017 served as an awak­en­ing for many ju­ris­dic­tions and there was a wave of mon­u­ment re­movals. The state needs to join other cities who have come to re­al­ize that there is no place for pub­lic dis­plays of Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols, in­clud­ing Bal­ti­more, where two years ago then-Mayor Cather­ine Pugh or­dered four statutes brought down in a se­cret op­er­a­tion in the mid­dle of the night.

The state trust made the right de­ci­sion in 2017 when it voted to re­move a statue from the State House grounds of U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Roger Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott de­ci­sion that up­held slav­ery. It’s too bad they didn’t make the right choice this time around. We’re not sure why they weren’t so en­light­ened this time around.

Per­haps, it was the in­flu­ence of Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller, who is also a mem­ber of the trust. Mr. Miller ob­jected to the re­moval of the Taney statue and ab­stained from that vote, not­ing that a statute of U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Thur­good Mar­shall on the other side of the State House served as a bal­ance. Per­haps, Mr. Miller was more con­vinc­ing this time around.

So now we’re go­ing to spend $2,400 to erase the of­fen­sive flag, while pre­serv­ing the of­fen­sive sen­ti­ment. We couldn’t think of a more ridicu­lous waste of money.

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