Baltimore's Confederate statues under tarps as Trump, Stonewall Jackson descendants weigh in

The Confederate monuments taken down in Baltimore remained out of sight Thursday, relegated to a city-owned lot under tarps and police protection, but not out of mind for many, particularly President Donald J. Trump.

“Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” the president said on Twitter Thursday morning, a day after the city removed four monuments from their pedestals in an unannounced overnight operation. “You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!”

While Trump did not call out Baltimore by name, a statue of the two Confederate generals in Wyman Park Dell was among the four memorials removed from public display before dawn on Wednesday, swiftly resolving an issue that multiple cities are confronting following last weekend’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left a counter-protester dead.

In a signal of how protracted a battle this may be, on Thursday, someone knocked over the protest statue of a black woman, titled Madre Luz, that activists had placed on the pedestal after the removal of Lee and Jackson. Police said the person was a white male in a blue shirt and khaki shorts who left in a vehicle. Earlier someone had painted the base with the words: “Honor history.”

Meanwhile, the push to take down Confederate monuments received unexpected support from descendants of Jackson. Writing to Richmond, Va., Mayor Levar Stoney, a longtime critic of his city’s Confederate statues, two great-great-grandsons of Jackson called the monuments “overt symbols of racism and white supremacy” that should have been taken down long ago.

“Overnight, Baltimore has seen fit to take this action,” William Jackson Christian and Warren Edmund Christian wrote in an open letter. “Richmond should, too.”

The descendants went on to say, “While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer. We are ashamed of the monument.”

Earlier this week, Stoney ordered a city commission to look into removing Confederate statutes that line Monument Avenue, an option previously not under consideration in this former capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War.

While not a new issue, after what happened in Charlottesville, emotions have intensified on both sides of the debate. Trump’s stance on the violent protests have only fueled the fire.

Trump angered many when, on Saturday, he tweeted condemnation of “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides,” seemingly making no distinction between the white supremacists and those who opposed them.

On Monday, under mounting attacks even from within his Republican party, Trump made a second statement, saying, “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and other hate groups are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

But by Tuesday, he not only returned to his many-sides equivalence but added that there were many “fine people” on both sides. He also waded into the Confederate monuments controversy, firmly planting himself in the side of keeping them intact, and seemingly putting Lee and Jackson on the same level as two founding fathers.

“So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” Trump said.

In response to a reporter’s question about taking down statues of Lee, Trump said that decision belongs to local communities or the federal government, depending on the location.

On Thursday, a day after most Baltimoreans woke up to discover the Confederate statues gone, Trump decried the statues’s removal in a tweetstorm, concluding that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

That drew rebukes, including one from U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who tweeted, “There is plenty of beauty in Baltimore WITHOUT monuments glorifying our country’s darkest chapters, @realDonaldTrump.”

Also on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Corey Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, announced plans to introduce a bill to remove statues honoring Confederate soldiers from the U.S. Capitol.

In addition to the Lee and Jackson statue, Baltimore removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Mount Royal Avenue and the Confederate Women's Monument on West University Parkway. A fourth monument, memorializing Chief Justice Roger B. Taney at Mount Vernon Place, also was removed Wednesday. Taney wrote the Supreme Court decision in the Dred Scott case, which ruled black people were not citizens.

Mayor Catherine Pugh said she decided Tuesday morning to remove them “quickly and quietly” under cover of darkness to avoid any violent disturbances like the one in Charlottesville.

Pugh reiterated Thursday that Baltimore officials do not plan to destroy the city’s Confederate monuments and will instead consider requests to acquire them. She formed a working group to determine their fate.

“The working group will consider any proposals or requests to acquire the monuments,” Pugh’s spokesman, Anthony McCarthy, said in an email.

It’s unclear whether any such request have been received.

Terry Klima, commander of the Maryland division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the monuments “should go back exactly where they were found.”

He said Pugh’s action was “inappropriate” and called on the Maryland Historical Trust to intervene. He declined to say whether he would support placing the memorials in a Confederate cemetery, a museum or elsewhere.

For now they remain in a city-owned lot, unrecognizable behemoths underneath tarps.

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott has suggested melting them down to create statues of prominent Baltimoreans, such as Clarence Du Burns, the city’s first black mayor.

Confederate symbols faced a nationwide backlash after the 2015 killing of nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, S.C., by white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof.

Elizabeth Nix, an assistant professor of public history at the University of Baltimore, served on a task force, formed by former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to study the Confederate monuments. She called it “wise” to keep the statues protected on city property until officials figure out what to do.

“Before this process, a lot of people did not know we had four Confederate monuments on public property in Baltimore City,” she said. “The commission heard testimony from hundreds of people who came and testified on both sides. That discussion is just what public historians want to see happen — a discussion of history and its role in our lives today.”

Nix said commission members had hoped the statue of Lee and Jackson could be sent to Chancellorsville, Va., where the two Confederate generals met on the battlefield. She also likes Pugh’s idea of placing the statues to fallen Confederate soldiers in Confederate cemeteries.

As for the Taney statue, she suggested melting it down and making it into another monument.

“I love the idea of having a Frederick Douglass statute,” she said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Carrie Wells contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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