Baltimore Mayor Pugh pledges to remove Confederate monuments

Mayor Catherine Pugh pledged to Monday take down Confederate-era monuments in Baltimore — and said she has asked contractors for estimates on how much it will cost.

“It’s my intention to move forward with the removal of the statues,” the mayor said. She said she planned to look into moving them outside the city, suggesting Confederate cemeteries as one possibility.

The mayor’s pledge comes as cities and states across the country are considering removing monuments to the Confederacy after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly over the weekend. Statues in Lexington, Ky., and Gainesville, Fla., were targeted Monday for removal, while Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch called for the removal of a statue on the State House grounds in Annapolis.

But Pugh’s pledge to remove the monuments wasn’t enough for some members of the Baltimore City Council, who said statues recognizing Confederate leaders should be destroyed, not moved.

“These people were terrorists. They were traitors. Why are we honoring them?” said City Councilman Brandon Scott.

Pugh said most cities she has studied have chosen to remove their statues, not destroy them. She said she worried a public destruction of the monuments could attract racist groups to Baltimore and spark a violent clash, like what happened in Virginia.

“I’m not trying to have a bonfire,” she said. “There’s a positive way to move through this process.”

Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed a commission of academics and officials to review Baltimore’s four Confederate monuments in 2015 after the shooting deaths of nine African-Americans in a historically black South Carolina church by a white man who had posted photographs of himself with the Confederate battle flag. 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 adding signs to the two others to provide historical context.

Pugh said she was frustrated the process for removing the statues wasn’t further along when she took office in December. She noted that Rawlings-Blake had the commission’s recommendation for nearly a year before leaving office.

Pugh said she plans to go further than the commission recommended. “We’re looking at all four of them,” she said.

Carolyn Billups, former president of the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, argued the city should spend its limited money elsewhere.

“Where is the city going to get the money, hello?” she said. “What about the crime rates? What about schools? Don’t you think the money would be better spent?”

The 65-year-old retired radiographer said her great-great-grandfather, Joseph Hardin Massie, fought in the 13th Virginia Infantry during the Civil War. Billups wrote a book in the late 1990s about Louise Wigfall Wright, the woman who founded the Maryland chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Wright led the fundraising to erect the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Bolton Hill in 1903. The statue depicts a Confederate soldier embraced by the winged figure of Glory. The inscription reads “Gloria Victis,” meaning “Glory to the vanquished.”

“They were all put up with an honorable intention,” Billups said. “They were not erected as a show of racism.”

She said that, if necessary, she would try to block the removals.

“I’m not sure if it’s practical to chain myself to it, but something along those lines,” she said. “I am serious about spending days, weeks, whatever it takes to defend the monument.”

The monument was vandalized at some point over the weekend — on Monday, it was covered in red paint. On Sunday, demonstrators placed a statue of a pregnant black woman, fist raised, with a child on her back, in front of the Lee and Jackson Monument in the Wyman Park Dell.

Scott introduced a City Council resolution Monday to have the monuments destroyed. The 15-member council unanimously voted for the resolution, but not before the suggestion sparked debate between council members.

Councilman Eric T. Costello said he wanted the monuments gone but believed destroying artwork goes down a “dangerous” path.

“I’m opposed to destroying anything that’s artwork,” he said.

Councilman Leon Pinkett noted that there are streets and sites throughout Baltimore named after people who held racist views.

“Are we prepared to go beyond these statues?” he asked. “I’m just saying if we’re going to do this, we need to be prepared to go all the way.”

Councilman Ryan Dorsey argued all the statues need to be destroyed.

“The very least we can do is destroy the symbols we have of oppression," he said.

Pugh said there are still a number of matters to take care of before the monuments can be removed, including paying for the work and receiving permission from the Maryland Historical Trust.

She said Rawlings-Blake was supposed to appoint a task force to handle those details, but never did.

She said she planned to appoint a “working group” to “lead the process for removing the Confederate monuments.”

Pugh said she met with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the monuments there, and he told her removing four monuments in New Orleans cost $2.1 million. She said she didn’t want to announce a specific date when the monuments would be removed in hopes of avoiding the violence experienced in Charlottesville over the weekend when white nationalists from out of state descended on the town.

Pugh said she hoped to transfer the statues to Confederate cemeteries elsewhere in Maryland. She said Confederate soldiers have been buried at the Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown and the Point Lookout Confederate Cemetery in Scotland, Md.

“We will inquire as to their willingness to accept the monuments and prepare agreements for the transfer,” Pugh said.

The commission appointed by Rawlings-Blake suggested the Lee and Jackson statue be offered to the National Park Service to place in Chancellorsville, Va., where the two Confederate generals last met in 1863. They said the statue of Taney, the chief justice from Maryland who wrote in the notorious Dred Scott decision that African-Americans could not be U.S. citizens, should be discarded.

The commission noted that about 65,000 Marylanders fought for the Union while 22,000 fought for the Confederacy, yet Baltimore has just one public monument to the Union.

Before Rawlings-Blake left office last year, she added signs in front of the four Confederate monuments in Baltimore. The signs said, in part, that the monuments were “part of a propaganda campaign of national pro-Confederate organizations to perpetuate the beliefs of white supremacy, falsify history and support segregation and racial intimidation.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.

Baltimore’s Confederate-era monuments

Mayor Catherine Pugh has pledged to remove four monuments. The City Council is calling for them to be destroyed instead.

* Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument: Erected in 1903 by the Maryland Daughters of the Confederacy at Mount Royal Avenue near Mosher Street, the monument depicts the allegorical figure Glory holding up a dying Confederate solider, who's holding the Confederate Battle Flag.

* Confederate Women’s Monument: Dedicated in 1917, the sculpture was part of an effort across the South to honor the sacrifices of Confederate women. It stands in a park at University Parkway and Charles Street.

* Robert E. Lee and Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson Monument: Dedicated in 1948, the bronze statue at Wyman Park Dell near Art Museum Drive depicts Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson atop horses before the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va.

* Roger B. Taney Monument: Erected in 1887, the sculpture of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, a Maryland native, is a copy of one in Annapolis. Baltimore’s stands at Mount Vernon Place, north of the Washington Monument. Taney's authorship of the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that Congress couldn't regulate slavery and that blacks weren't citizens, has caused him to be linked with the Confederate cause.

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